ATHENS, Tenn. - More than 200 people celebrated the grand opening of Athens' Market Park, braving heavy rains and taking shelter in the park's recently built pavilion.
Pick Tennessee Products, a Tennessee Department of Agriculture program created to promote locally grown produce, co-hosted the Thursday evening celebration as part of its 25th anniversary tour. Market Park was selected as only one of 10 tour sites statewide.
"We selected Market Park because of its innovative design and because it's a true farmers market," said Tammy Algood, spokeswoman for Pick Tennessee Products.
Algood praised the work of Athens Parks & Recreation in ensuring that real farmers offered their produce at Market Park, as opposed to people who sell second-hand produce "that could come from anywhere."
"We are here to tell people that the farmers market should be their summertime supermarket," Algood said.
Austin Fesmire, director of Athens Parks & Recreation, welcomed local, state and federal officials who supported the creation of the town's newest farmers market. Their pooled funding has created "a legacy project for the community," he said.
"Today is a celebration of but a portion of what has been and what will continue to be a joint effort to serve the citizenry of our area," Fesmire said.
"Know your farmer, know your food," urged Bobby Goode, state director for USDA Rural Development.
Market Park's second building phase will include public restrooms and concrete walkways, which are scheduled to be completed by November 2012, Fesmire said. A second pavilion will follow.
Fesmire thanked a number of agencies for their contributions to the park project, including McMinn County and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which provided $30,000 and $150,000, respectively, for phase two construction; the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, which gave $100,000 toward the initial pavilion and another $2,500 for wayfaring signs; and USDA Rural Development, which contributed $50,000.
"Folks, that's how you get it done in this day and time," TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said.
The farmers market, which opened for business July 5, seems to be a hit with local farmers and consumers.
"We've been here every day since it opened," said Rex Wilson, a Polk County farmer. "I'm well pleased with the turnout we've had so far."
Athens resident Amy Jackson said she loves being only five minutes away from fresh, locally grown produce.
"It's fabulous," she said.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.