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The Chattanooga Market, which welcomed local bands each week, may offer a framework for the music industry's return as the world digs out from the pandemic. / Staff file photo

If you are reading this, congratulations, it means we are finally out of one of the worst years in most of our lives. Get thee behind us, 2020, and may 2021 be great for all of us.

But there is still a long road ahead as we venture back to what was. While trying to imagine just exactly how we come out of this horror show and make things normal again, in particular as it relates to the entertainment universe, I keep thinking about the local farmers market scene. Let me explain.

Back in 2001, a guy named Nick Jessen set up an appointment to come by the office to tell me about a new venture he was starting. I'd never met him before that day, but in the interest of full disclosure, we are now friends who share a love of finding new restaurants. The more unusual, the better.

Anyway, he told me about this idea he had for a farmers market at then-Cricket Pavilion (now First Horizon Pavilion) that would be modeled after markets in Oregon and elsewhere. He was adamant that every vendor would have to be not only local, but that the person selling the product at the booth would have to be the same person who grew it, made it, painted it, strung it together or whatever.

He had a bunch of fairly strict rules about such things in order to ensure quality, he said. He was only interested in having quality stuff. "No 'tater boxes or Clorox bottle pigs," was his standard joke.

It was the genesis of the Chattanooga Market.

At that time, we had about three farms in the entire region, and on our way to lunch, Jessen would drive by the "local" market down the street from the paper and slow down to see "how many locally grown coconuts and pineapples" they had for sale. I have to admit, I didn't get it for the longest time.

He would tell me that the same produce being sold there was the exact same produce being sold in the local grocery stores. He would explain that there just were not enough farms or farmers in our area to provide that much produce.

It's hard to remember now, but people had to be reminded that produce — even local crops like corn, tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries — have a growing season. Jessen had to put up signs at the market and go on TV all the time to explain to people why tomatoes weren't available at the market in May when he opened, and why none of the vendors had pineapples.

The Chattanooga Market did so many things for our area. My family used to shop at the big box places and buy in bulk like everyone else. Now, we prefer to buy only fresh, and preferably local, and we buy in smaller quantities a few times a week in order to eat it fresh. We think about chemicals and where the food came from.

It also provided a way for so many people to sell what they grew or what they made themselves. Suddenly, farming, which is extremely risky, expensive and a whole lot of 'hard,' became cool again. We now have so many farms that there are several markets all over the region.

It also became a place for charities and groups like the county extension agencies and environmental groups to get in front of a lot of people and explain what they do.

Chris Thomas now runs the Chattanooga Market under the Public Market umbrella and his crew has expanded it to include four other markets in the area — which means there is supply and demand.

And it isn't just produce that is sold at these markets. Handmade jewelry, crafts, textiles, artwork, photographs, all kinds of things are made there. In some cases, vendors who started at the market selling a few things they made at home as a side gig now have full-fledged businesses and even storefronts to sell their wares.

The Chattanooga Market reminded us that 'local' is important and that things have a value and they are worth paying for.

I hope and believe that if we didn't know it before, live entertainment is also very important and it has a value and is worth paying for.

This is how I believe we will emerge from this pandemic, especially in the entertainment world. When people start to feel safe enough, I think we will see small shows with a few fans and with artists performing primarily close to their home base. I don't think we will see a lot of bands touring across country for awhile, and we certainly won't see too many artists traveling from foreign countries on big tours.

That means things like big festivals are likely not going to happen as we knew them for awhile. Until then, local is better.

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