Business owner wants to grow local agriculture

Robert Houk • Updated Jun 5, 2020 at 4:35 PM

Local restaurateur and businessman Jamie Dove told Washington County officials Thursday that digging into the region’s “deep agricultural roots” is essential to shaping the economic future of Northeast Tennessee.

Dove, the owner of Main Street Pizza Co. in downtown Johnson City, told members of the county’s Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee that the region’s agricultural heritage is “something that makes us feel different. It makes us a place to visit, and a place that still has its roots firmly planted in the ground.”

The entrepreneur said in a time when the culture “is digesting the same media,” agriculture provides Northeast Tennessee with a narrative that allows it to stand out in an increasingly homogeneous world.

“Local food is something that is not only important to our area, it is also something we can use to showcase this region,” Dove said.

He said he is developing a subscription farming model he hopes will benefit other restaurants and businesses in the area. 

Dove said his service, which is based on a community-supported agriculture model, has helped to sustain his shuttered restaurant operations in Johnson City, Kingsport and in Greene County during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. He said many of his employees have served as “no contact” home delivery drivers for the agricultural service.

He said his farming operation began some six years ago when he bought a small plot of land near the Nolichucky River in Limestone to grow fruit and vegetables to supplement his restaurant businesses. Dove said the idea was to have access to fresh and organic products to “show we care about the ingredients that go into our food.”

With many farm products having a limited shelf life, Dove said he created to a subscription service for customers who are willing to pay upfront for fresh agricultural products. By the end of its first year in operation, nearly 40 families had signed up for the service.

That number increased the next year to more than 150 families, each spending an average of $80 to $90 a month for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Dove later expanded the operation by buying more farmland, enlisting the help of other local farmers and finding crops to grow year-round. He said he had intended this to be the final year of the original subscription service, but the pandemic changed his plans.

He has seen the number of subscribers for the service grow to 425 accounts this spring, with families spending as much as $200 a month for the service.

“That level of subscription will not continue,” Dove said, but he believes the service can be designed to cover its operational costs. He told members of the county’s CIA Committee he would appreciate any help or guidance local government can lend to him and other small farmers.

He said such aid is essential since the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program is not geared to small-scale farming.

“Thank you for being on the edge of something that is happening nationally,” CIA Chairman Phil Carriger told Dove.

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