Revamped Johnson City Farmers Market selling more locally sourced produce

Zach Vance • May 26, 2018 at 11:15 PM

Ever wonder where that tomato really came from?

Now you don’t have to.

Unlike previous seasons, if you buy produce at the Johnson City Farmers Market this year, you are now guaranteed it’s been grown within 150 miles of the Tri-Cities.

This year, the local market underwent a major philosophical change, expanding its Board of Directors membership and tightening its locally grown mandate on vendors.

Last year, the Board of Directors had a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and just one at-large member. Now, the board has nine members, five at-large members and the four executive roles.

Perhaps the biggest change this year is the cutdown on selling of externally sourced agricultural produce. Previously, farmers only had to grow at least 50 percent of the produce they sold, while the other 50 percent sold could come from “outside sources.”

New bylaws require at least 75 percent be produced or grown by the vendor within a 100-mile radius, while the other 25 percent may be purchased, but still must be produced within 150 miles of the market.

Addressing a history of complaints, the new rules also state “no reselling of items from grocery store chains, wholesale clubs, etc., will be permitted.”

“We still have a small percentage that can be resold, but it has to be grown within 150 miles, not purchased within 150 miles. We’re kind of managing that as we go,” Secretary Amy Venable said.

“We’re also trying to manage our vendor ratios so we have more farmers present. We limited the amount of crafts and value-added.”

Venable also said the market is trying manage its farmer-to-craft ratio, with 70 percent of the market agricultural products, 15 percent value-added products and 15 percent crafters.

The Johnson City Farmers Market leadership has also started conducting “farm checks” on vendors to ensure the proper ratio of homegrown products. Venable said they have been impressed with the two farm checks already conducted this year.

At-large board member Camille Cody, owner of Grand Oak Farm in Jonesborough, has been farming since 2009 and said she has traveled all over the country selling at different farmers markets, but none were quite like the Johnson City Farmers Market.

“I’ve been a part of 11 different farmers markets over the last 10 years, and never have I been a part of a farmers market that allowed reselling. It was all very much a true farmers market. So it’s been interesting to step into a market that has such a long history of reselling, and to try to make the transition to something that is more of a true farmers market,” Cody said.

“You don’t want to mess up people’s livelihoods, because this is the way some people have been making money for a number of years. But at the same time, it’s not fair to those of us who are actually investing our time and labor to grow everything.”

First-year vendor Steve Stanley, with A Different Chick Farm & Orchard, said he has farmed for years in Johnson City and decided to try out the Johnson City Farmers Market after learning about the new rule changes.

“We liked the idea that things are going more towards the farmer instead of packing stuff in from Florida and so forth. We thought it was a great idea and thought we’d start participating with it,” Stanley said.

Stanley, Venable and Cody said the consumer response to the changes have been positive, and sales are expected to climb as the growing season progresses and the variety of products increase.

“The customers seem really happy that when they buy produce from here now, they know it’s local. It’s grown within a 150 miles or from the person standing right in front of you. So they can actually ask the farmer questions,” said Angie Sheek, a farmer and owner of Sheek Treats.

“It’s a really good thing and also opens up a lot of conversation between customers and producers that didn’t exist before. So with resale, you’re just a middle man. What we have now is we have the actual producer standing here talking to you. It makes for a better market all the way around.”

Sheek did admit some growing pains come with the new changes, especially with the transition to an online-based market managing system, called Manage My Market.

Venable said the market is still accepting applications from agriculture vendors, but not for value-based or craft vendors.

Beginning sometime in June, Treasurer Healther Shipley said the farmers market will begin organizing four children’s activities, to start at the end of June. In July, the market will start a new program that allows anyone to walk around Founders Park twice and earn up to $3 in produce credits.

If you’re interested in submitting an agriculture vendor application, send an email to [email protected].

To keep up to date on the Johnson City Farmers Market, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/johnsoncityfarmersmarket/.

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