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The movement: Area farmers markets always keeping it fresh

Tony Casey • Aug 16, 2015 at 9:57 PM

Nearly every area community has its own farmers market or some gathering place where local produce growers can collect and sell products made or cultivated with their own two hands.

While the count tops 30 farmers markets, each one’s goal is much the same: offer local, fresh produce and products for their community, a process that benefits both the producers and consumers involved.

It’s been a movement for a while, but Tamara McNaughton said she likes the recent momentum in the region. Among other things, she’s the agriculture program manager for Appalachian Sustainable Development, based in Abingdon, Virginia.

McNaughton’s job revolves around helping each of those 30-plus markets get the resources it needs to make farm-fresh goods available to all.

“I think good food should be accessible to all people,” McNaughton said.

Serving Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, Appalachian Sustainable Development and Appalachian Farmers Market Association try to raise that accessibility. One program McNaughton helped put in place was the use of Double-Dollars through Newman’s Own Foundation’s Wholesome Wave, which helps make the monetary value EBT cards increase by two for those who receive SNAP benefits.

This year, those dollars were doubled in value specifically on fruits and vegetables, which could be used at the area’s farmers markets.

“Programs like the Double Dollar program bring more customers to the market, allow more people in our community access to fresh, local, naturally-grown foods and keep more dollars in the local economy,” said Ben Bullen of Bullen Family Farm, which participates in the Double Dollars program.

Nan Cramer, who oversees the Farmers Market at East Tennessee State University, is aligning vendors and events for her market, which will run every Thursday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., on campus, from Sept. 3 through Oct. 29.

“We’re always trying to get more people from the community involved and get more farmers involved,” Cramer said. “It's a goal of the university’s to grow and ETSU has gotten behind this.”

Getting the word out through campus takes up a lot of Cramer’s time with the farmers market, but that’s OK with her, because there are so many students nearby who don’t get their food from local sources. One way she and the Farmers Market at ETSU have succeeded to get the word out has been the popularity of T-shirts that bear the name of the market, and are, in Cramer’s words, “cute shirts with a nice logo.” Anyone interested in checking out the market, getting a shirt or learning more about what they do can either show up or email Cramer at [email protected]

“There's a large misconception in the country about farmer’s markets being more expensive,” Cramer said. “Even if they are, and usually they're not, you're actually getting produce from within 50 to 100 miles. It’s fresher and picked at the right time, not picked while it's green so it ripens in the truck.”

She’s a firm believer in the widespread positive effects of easy accessibility of produce and goods found at local farmers markets.

“You’re supporting your community and there's all kind of research out there saying there's better nutrition in foods that's grown near you. Not only are you helping the people that live in the area, but you're also helping the environment because the food is traveling a shorter distance.”

Local farmers fueling a healthy food movement is exciting for both McNaughton and Cramer. Cramer said ETSU’s market will feature a mixture of new vendors, live music and dancing and lots of new food demonstrations.

McNaughton points to local restaurants, like The Main Street Pizza Company in downtown Johnson City, where, through their River Creek Farm, in Limestone, they’re able to serve their own fresh produce to the restaurants patrons. With another Main Street Pizza Company restaurant opening up in Kingsport in the near future, there will be a larger market for all the natural goodies they grow.

The Main Street Pizza Company isn’t the only business in the area to include fresh and local produce in the dishes they serve. In Johnson City alone, she say MidCity Grill, Buffalo Street Downtown Deli and One Acre Cafe also take part in that philosophy.

McNaughton makes a point that as much as it seems there are so many gardens out there, with lots of produce being made, there’s never a lack of mouths to feed and brains to educate on the wonders of locally-produced food.

“The movement has been around for many years and it's moved its way from foodie affluence and is starting to trend into all populations,” she said.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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