JASPER, Tenn. - Marion County leaders will pump $21,000 into its ailing farmers market in hopes of getting a total of $80,000 to spend on significant upgrades.
The Marion County Commission voted unanimously last week to add $21,000 to $19,000 in grant money it already has in place to use as matching funds for a larger grant opportunity.
That will give the county the chance to apply for $40,000 in additional grant money, which would give it a total of $80,000 to spend on a large-scale expansion of the dilapidated facility.
County Mayor John Graham said he spoke with the board's finance committee two weeks ago about applying for the money.
"What I thought we should do was see if the county wanted to put in some additional funds to tap into that extra 50 percent match," he said.
Finance Committee Chairman Don Adkins said the committee examined how other area farmers markets are benefiting their communities significantly and that encouraged them to recommend spending the extra money.
"Hopefully, maybe with $80,000, we can build a nice, open-air facility down at our current location," he said.
University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Agent Vicki Lofty said large capital development grants for this type of use only come around occasionally, and it's important for the county to access the money while it can.
"There are grants just about every year, but they're usually small ones up to about $1,000," she said. "This time it's from $10,000 to $100,000. With that amount, we could have nice parking facilities that are handicapped accessible, with the possibility of adding restrooms."
Other area markets include community canneries and kitchen facilities, Lofty said.
"If we can get a basic facility, somewhere down the road we could add things like that," she said.
The county will need to get the current site along U.S. Highway 41 in Kimball, Tenn., surveyed professionally so it can properly map out the plot of land it will provide for the farmers market, officials said.
"The problem has always been not being able to keep up with the demand for the product," Commissioner Gene Hargis said. "We thought a regional farmers market would be more attractive as far as grant purposes and being able to meet the demand for the goods."
He said the market will include produce from Sequatchie and Grundy counties in Tennessee, as well as north Jackson County, Ala. and Dade County, Ga.
"What we're trying to do here is a regional farmers market, not just a Marion County farmers market," Hargis said. "With that, you're going to be able to meet the demand. You'll have the supply for the demand that's required."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.