As she strolled through the Johnson City Farmers Market for the first time Saturday, Amelia Hirsch noticed a few different things from the farmers markets she’s used to in San Diego — everything was cheaper, there were more peaches than avocados and more people grow produce in their backyard.
“The farmers markets in San Diego were probably a little bit bigger. This is great, cause there’s not as many people. San Diego has a farmers market almost every day somewhere in the city, ’cause it has a bunch of different areas, so it’s fun to just come in one city where there’s one place to come to,” she said.
Hirsch just moved to Johnson City from San Diego and decided to see what kinds of things the local market had to offer.
As a new resident, Hirsch said she looked forward to hitting the Farmers Market as often as she could.
While the culture is definitely different from what she’s used to in Southern California, the focus on supporting locally grown product was the same.
“I really love supporting local. I love smaller businesses and what they do for the community,” she said. “When you support local, the community, you can support more local buildings, you have more say in the community. It’s a better way to run your city, I think.”
Shoppers Laura Owens and Bonnie Leach agreed, saying it all comes down to the quality of the product and the more personable atmosphere of the Farmers Market.
“I think it’s really good if we can help out our local community and help out our families here. Why buy it from the grocery store if you can buy it here?” Owens said.
It’s that kind of support from the local community that keeps vendors like Heather Shipley coming back to the market every season to sell goods.
“It means a lot to every one of us that we have those local people that support us,” she said.
Shipley is with Shipley Farm from Piney Flats and operates the tent with her husband, Phil, and two sons, Austin and Logan. She has been with the market for about eight years and offers food such as cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, okra and pickled items.
The season opened in May and has seen a steady flow of customers pick up everything from fresh produce to baked goods, according to Shipley.
“Every Saturday’s different. It used to be that the first of the month was really good and then it would dwindle, but it seems like with the economy, every Saturday is a good Saturday for us,” she said.
While she offers a variety of fresh produce straight from the farm, Shipley said the demand for one item varies from week to week.
“If we have a lot of visitors in town, they’re after that one specific thing that they could carry home. Everybody’s after that Tennessee homegrown flavor,” she said.
With the market having a place in the city since 1976, Shipley said it’s become a tradition in the larger community.
“With the Farmers Market here as long as it has, it’s more of a community. Everybody comes here to see the friends they’ve made over the years. They know their vendors. It’s just a community among itself,” she said.
For Gabe Hinkley, a vendor with Good Fork Farm in Fall Branch, the season’s steady crowd has been a saving grace in what began as a rather rocky year for the farm.
“Weather wise, it’s been rough. Tornadoes and stuff missed us by about a mile. We had a lot of hail damage, lost a greenhouse, lost a bunch of seedlings,” he said.
Hinkley and Good Fork Farm provide heirloom and specialty produce, breads and homemade jams — all of which have sold well so far this season.
“There’s a lot of traffic here. We usually sell most of what we take,” he said.
The Farmers Market is open every Wednesday and Saturday through October from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.