Market Strategy: Farmers market organizers offer more space, later start for second year

Maryville Farmers Market customers get a lesson in diversity on market mornings. They can purchase produce from a vendor from the world-class resort at Blackberry Farm and from an 11-year-old girl from Friendsville.

Last year’s successful market saw many different types of vendors fitting into the market structure - which is a dirt-to-table philosophy, allowing nothing to be sold that hasn’t been grown, harvested or produced here.

But the big news for many returning customers and vendors as the market prepares to open on Saturday, May 5, could be summed up in the realtor’s mantra: location, location, location.

"The big news is the new location," said Kristi Falco, president of the 2007 Blount Farmers Market and coordinator of Keep Blount Beautiful. "I think it’s going to be great."

The new site is across the street from the old one, but the lot is larger and flat. The lot that was used in the 2006 market near the professional building was difficult for some because it wasn’t flat. "We had customers last year who had trouble walking up and down the hill," Falco said.

Teresa Horn and her husband Doug Horn own Quality Financial Concepts, are members of the Maryville Downtown Association and helped found the Farmers Market. She said the new location at Founders Park is ideal for the market. "It’s a larger, flatter lot. It gives us a lot more exposure," she said.

Founders Park is a square on the East Broadway Avenue side of the spacious parking lot between CBBC and Molecular Laboratories where the market will be held. "We’re going to have tons of room, and the square is for special events. We’re very excited about that," Falco said.

Another change in the market for 2007 is the hours. This year the event starts at 9 a.m.

"There were a lot of people who didn’t like the 8 a.m. start," said Falco. "This gives people another hour of sleep before coming to the market."

Market closes at noon, or when everyone is sold out, said Falco. "(In 2006), it would always be over by noon. Hopefully we’ll give more people a chance to get up and get produce."

The produce people find may be from master gardeners and veteran farmers, like the experts at Blackberry Farm, or some harvested from backyard orchards, like the apples being sold by 11-year-old Emma Graham.

Emma sold Williams Pride apples at the 2006 market. To help, her dad, Blount County Commissioner David Graham, gave her a little marketing help by peeling apples on a spiral peeler to give to would-be customers.

"It slices it like a slinky," Emma said. "You decide whether you want it peeled or not."

Emma said she learned a lot about marketing and selling. "We gave samples (of the ‘slinky’ apples) to everyone, and most people liked it," she said.

Emma earned $1,800 over the span of six to 10 Saturdays she worked the market. She sold the apples by the bushel, half bushel, peck and half peck.

Emma said she’s excited about taking part in this year’s market. While she said she wants to earn more money, Emma said she also enjoyed the atmosphere. "I met a lot of people who liked to buy our apples. Every person who bought apples usually came back," she said.

One customer Emma had surprised her mother, Adina Chumley.

"Blackberry Farm bought a bushel to use at their five-star resort in Walland," Chumley said.

Chumley said she and Graham watched as their daughter learned how to be a business person. "She learned what it was like to market," Chumley said. "She learned to be a salesperson."

Sam Beall of Blackberry Farm said the Maryville Farmers Market is something that exemplifies an ideal his family holds about food and community.

"It would be dishonest, when it’s something our family and company believe in and live our lives by, for us not to want to share what we believe in with the community," he said.

Farmers markets offer customers the chance to enjoy "real food," he said. "If it is local, that dictates it is going to be in season. If it’s in season, it dictates it’s going to be fresh."

Additionally, if food is locally grown or raised, the customer has a better chance of knowing where it comes from and perhaps of knowing the farmer responsible for it, Beall said. "A farmers’ market it is a great way to put it in front of our community. Through the Farmers Market we have started to change that mentality and how we look at food."

Beall said he was happy with customers’ response to the 2006 market, but he hopes for an even better response this year. "Getting something off the ground is hard. I was very excited to see the response. I think the best is still to come," he said. "I think some of that energy created last year has given comfort to some of these farmers that it is something to rely on week-after-week. I think this year is the year it’s going to be most impressive."

The master gardeners program is working closely with the farmers market again this year. "They set up a table to bring diseased plants and people can ask questions," Teresa Horn said. "We had Tomato Day, Watermelon Day; those things get families involved with their children. We’re wanting to do more of that."

The Maryville Farmers Market is a not-for-profit organization. The portion that goes to the market goes for educational purposes, Teresa Horn said.

Falco said that currently there are 22 vendors signed up for this year’s market. In 2006, there were about 50 vendors. "Throughout the year as people have things come in, we added vendors," she said. "This time last year there were only 12."

Falco said the requirements to be a vendor are simple. "You have to have grown the materials yourself. As far as the value-added products like honey or beeswax, if you’re going to bring things like that, you have to have grown or made 51 percent of it," she said.

People selling items such as potted plants or jams and jellies have to make sure they have certified products. The certification ensures quality and authenticity as a home-made product. The certification for jams and jellies assures customers that the products are made in a "domestic" kitchen and not a professional facility. "They need to make sure if there are certifications for products, they meet their certification," Falco said of the vendors.

Falco said the Maryville Farmers Market isn’t limited to just Blount County farmers. Any farmer from East Tennessee can become a vendor.

"The main thing is we’re trying to sell fruits and vegetables and herbs to give people an outlet," she said.

Falco said that in the 2006 market about a 200 customers usually turned out for the market each Saturday. "We would always sell out."

Falco said customers should remember the market progresses and the selection gets bigger as the season goes on. "Be patient in the beginning, especially with cold weather, it might be a little sparse," she said. "As the season gets better we’ll have more produce come in."

Beall said one thing he learned from the 2006 farmers market was for vendors to persevere. "As a vendor, it’s important for us to hang in there every week, whether it’s good weather or bad, whether there is a lot of produce or not, because our market customers deserve that," he said.

Something else Beall noticed was that the market started off very strong at the beginning of the 2006 season before the bounty of the season’s harvest had even come in yet. "Once the bounty of the harvest came in July, some people had already had their glory days at the market. That’s where we really need to hit on all cylinders. That is when the best of the market will show," he said. "I learned that we need to carry on the strong start we had during bounty of the harvest in the middle of the summer."

Falco said the recent cold snap has affected farmers in a variety of ways. "We’ve gotten different reports from farmers. A lot of people have had to do replanting. I think it will be similar to last year. Last year we didn’t have a warm spring," she said. "In the beginning market we had a lot of lettuce, cold weather crops. I think it will be similar."

Teresa Horn said when she and Chad Berry, Kristi Falco and Leslie Rutherford started talking about creating the farmers market, they were in Leadership Blount, but the market wasn’t considered a Leadership Blount project.

Teresa Horn said the project interested them because it held out the possibility to bring the farmers market back to the downtown area. "We feel it has brought a sense of community," she said.

Teresa Horn said the whole goal was to be able to turn it back over to the farmers and rotate farmers on the board. "That’s what we’re seeing happen," she said.

The Maryville Farmers Market has helped fulfill the mission of another organization, the Maryville Downtown Association. The goal in starting the MDA was to create a downtown environment that was alive and vibrant, 24 hours, 7 days a week with people living downtown.

"The Farmers Market was such an important part of that 7-day-a week thing. It brings more and more people to our downtown," said Teresa Horn. "We’re seeing more and more buildings reworked and vitalized. It’s part of creating a downtown people want to come to. It’s the making of a really great downtown, and the farmers market is another dimension that was much needed."

Falco said those wanting to become vendors can get an application by visiting maryvillefarmersmarket.com or by calling Keep Blount Beautiful at 865-681-4809 or by calling the Maryville Farmers Market line at 865-273-1259.

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