On the last day of the Johnson City Farmers Market’s regular season Wednesday, vendors and patrons reflected on the past year and eagerly looked ahead to changes expected in the next for the growing marketplace.
Starting this weekend, the market drops Wednesdays from its schedule and will only be open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Dec. 14, when it closes until the spring.
Farmers market president Don Dennis said this year saw a significant jump in merchants and attendees.
“We had a phenomenal season,” he said. “We’ve got a total of 144 vendors, which is an increase of about 30, and the crowds have been as high as 4,000 on Saturdays.”
The trend over the past decade toward purchasing fresh, locally produced food has been a boon for small-scale farmers like Glenda and Kenneth Dunbar and their son, Tracy.
The family first rented a booth at the Johnson City Farmers Market seven years ago, and still drive each week from Greene County to sell the fruits and vegetables they grow on their 4-acre farm there.
“When we came up here, there weren’t near as many vendors as there are now,” Glenda Dunbar said. “But everybody here was just so friendly, they welcomed us right in here and helped us set up the booth.”
Dunbar said it’s now easier than it has been in the last 30 years for locals to buy unprocessed meats, fruits and vegetables — healthy options that frequent farmers market patron Rebecca McHenry said is important to her and her family.
“I like to shop local and to know where my food’s coming from,” McHenry said as she browsed the market’s wares. “Today I’m looking for muscadines, which is a kind of grape that’s only native to North America. We like to get those.”
Since moving to the area about a year-and-a-half ago, McHenry said she’s tried to visit the market at least once a week when it’s open to see what types of produce is offered.
She, like Dennis and the Dunbars, said she’s excitedly awaiting the market’s move next year to a covered pavilion near Founder’s Park.
“It’s going to be an interesting move,” Dennis said. “I think it’s going to be a great place for consumers. For the market, it’s going to be a little bit tight for us because of the space that’s going to be allotted.”
The market’s president said when the farmers market moves, likely next summer, the 600 feet of aisle space it has now will be compacted to a little more than 200 feet under the structure, but the vendors could always set up tents in nearby parking lots like they do now.
With the switch to the winter market, and the slow down in vegetable production, Dennis said arts and crafts vendors will have their time to shine in the holiday shopping months.
“You’ll have some winter vegetables, like potatoes, turnips, onions and greens,” he said. “But the real reason to go through the middle of December, is to allow the arts and crafts people to be able to hit those seasonal sales.”
He attributed a part of the market’s growth to the ability of the merchants selling small gifts to capture patrons who may want to browse.
Another part is the organization’s steady online advertising campaign, which pulled in new customers through a website and social media pages.
“We’ve got about 400 people who are seeing our email newsletters,” Dennis said. “We put specials and different things in there to bring people in every week.”