Farmers feel heady

Farmers feel heady

November 20th, 2009 by Amy Williams in Businesstopstory

Staff Photo by John Rawlston Brandy Davis buys produce from Crabtree Farms assistant farm manager Candice Dougherty, right, at the Main Street Farmer's Market.

Staff Photo by John Rawlston Brandy Davis buys produce...

One day this year during the peak growing season, vendors at the fledgling Main St. Farmer's Market saw as many as 500 customers in the two hours it was open.

The turnout that day gave market manager Trae Moore the affirmation he needed. He, along with the eight or 10 farms selling their goods that day, had known for a long time that a farmer's market was needed in the city.

"The market in Chattanooga definitely has been a slow process, but it has really taken off," said Kelsey Keener with Williams Island Farm. "As farmers, it feels pretty good to sell directly to the customer."

This week the market has held a fall harvest festival in conjunction with area businesses and other organizations. Events have been held every day as part of the festival, including a local food summit set to take place tonight at GreenSpaces on the Southside.

A panel of representatives from the local food industry will discuss the local food system and how to develop a farming network.

"The farmers are kind of disassociated, and what we are trying to do is bring them together a little bit and try to create a real strong network where they know each other and they're working with each other," Mr. Moore said.

The market started this spring with the intention of having a market for farmers run by farmers. Mr. Moore and the other organizers did not intend for the market to compete against the Chattanooga Market at First Tennessee Pavillion, he said.

"We think it's OK to just want to have a farmer's market," he said.

They chose to have the market on Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. in a gravel lot just west of Main and Market streets.

This year's market will end the first or second week of December, and Mr. Moore hopes to bring it back bigger and better next spring with more farms participating.

"This winter we are going to have a farmer meeting and we are going to talk about next year, about how to grow for the market," he said.

Many of the local farms were use to selling their products through community supported agriculture programs or CSAs, where people pay up front to periodically get fruits and vegetables for several months out of the year.

Since farmers were familiar with that model, some farmers are learning for the first time how to talk to customers about the food they are growing.

"It creates an education point for consumers," Mr. Moore said.

Even this late in the year, Mr. Keener and his fellow farmers from Williams Island still bring truckloads of radishes, greens, carrots, beets and other vegetables to sell each Wednesday. He enjoys talking with the people who come through to buy their food, and to find out what they're cooking. That's been the most valuable thing for him, he said, creating relationships with customers.

"The hope is that the market is going to continue building and become really financially supportive for local farmers," Mr. Keener said. "But it takes a lot more people coming and spending money and actually buying their food for the week for that to happen."