Tennessee leads nation in growth of farmers markets

Tennessee leads nation in growth of farmers markets

August 5th, 2014 by Alex Green in Business Around the Region

In this file photograph from 2013, Bobby and Faye Lyle sell vegetables at the Farmers Market North in Cleveland, Tenn.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

States with the most farmers markets:

• 1. California: 764

• 2. New York: 638

• 3. Michigan: 339

24. Tennessee: 119

• Source: USDA

States with largest farmers market gains, 2013 to 2014:

• 1. Tennessee: 20 new markets, 20 percent gain

• 2. Louisiana: eight new markets, 12 percent gain

• 3. Texas: 12 new markets, 7 percent gain

• 4. Hawaii: six new markets, 6 percent gain

Source: USDA

Roy Jones, the owner of Jones Farm, organizes baskets of strawberries at his booth at the grand opening of the St. Elmo's Farmers' Market in May.

Photo by Erin O. Smith/Times Free Press.

Farmers markets are growing and spreading in Tennessee faster than anywhere else in the country, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the past year, 20 farmers markets opened in Tennessee, boosting the state's count from 99 to 119.

Within 50 miles of downtown Chattanooga, there are 17 USDA-registered farmers markets, and a handful of Tennessee's newest additions are within that radius.

This year, Athens, Hixson, Manchester and Tullahoma each registered new farmers markets.

Tennessee a decade ago was home to only 48 registered farmers markets statewide.

Greg Rosenthal, a USDA spokesman, called Tennessee's rapid farmers market growth "remarkable."

He said a variety of factors come into play for the impetus behind the growing demand for farmers markets: the health food movement, the state's plethora of agriculture and the increasing demand for locally-grown produce are among them.

Bobby Collier, Bledsoe County mayor, said many of the same driving forces are behind the construction of a new farmers market next to the Bledsoe County Courthouse in Pikeville.

"Right now, we're seeing a health kick," he said. "Part of that health kick is fresh foods."

And, "people want to know where their food is coming from."

The county and city are teaming up to finance the market's construction, which could cost around $100,000, including grants between $60,000 and $75,000 for the project.

Collier said farmers markets represent a marriage between agriculture and tourism, Tennessee's two largest industries.

"We're trying to tap into both of them," he said. "We look at is as economic development for us."

And for farmers, each new market is a chance to establish a foothold and build a clientele in a new community.

"It's a great thing for us," said Steve Colvin, owner of Colvin Family Farm in eastern Bledsoe County.

The Colvin family currently farms and sells a myriad of produce weekly at eight local farmers markets, from Knoxville to Chattanooga. Colvin Farm's four biggest markets each happen on Saturdays, which means Fridays are dedicated to packing and preparing for the weekend.

Colvin said right now, it takes nearly all the farm's manpower to attend the farmers markets in the area.

And each market is unique, with its own customer base and quirks.

From experience, Colvin knows. Selling vegetables in Knoxville is a lot harder when the Tennessee Volunteers are playing, he said.

Regardless, trekking all over east Tennessee, appearing at farmers markets has proven to be a worthwhile investment for Colvin Family Farm.

Colvin said around 70 percent of the farm's annual sales occur at the market.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.