On Saturday I told Charlotte Tolley, the manager of the Market Square Farmers’ Market, that I don’t remember seeing this much produce at the market at this time last year. She said I was right. There previously wasn’t this much volume or this much variety this close to the end of the season.
“Why?” I wondered. “Everyone is figuring it out,” she said. “They have learned how to extend the season. They are able now to start earlier and stay later. They are growing crops they didn’t used to grow.”
One example is the Colvin Family Farm. For the first time this past Saturday, they brought Brussels sprouts. They are the only vendor to offer that vegetable. “We are just learning how to grow them,” said Isaac Colvin. “But we’ll figure it out.” (Alan and I brought some home, cut the little sprouts off their stalks, tossed them in some olive oil and melted butter with some salt and pepper, and roasted them in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes. They were great!)
The Market Square Farmers’ Market, in its eighth year, will be open only two more Saturdays this year. Then it will convert to a Holiday Market with craft items and prepared foods. This has been the market’s biggest year yet. Tolley said, at its height, there were 150 vendors.
Vendors come and go throughout the growing season depending on what they are offering and other commitments they have. “Some just have apple orchards,” she pointed out. “They might only be here three weeks.” Some skip weeks based on the weather or the UT football schedule, which can have a huge impact on the market.
It’s an interesting dynamic among vendors at the market. “They work together,” Tolley noted. “But they are in competition. As they get more experience, they figure out how to set themselves apart. They figure out what they do best.” This makes for a wonderful opportunity for shoppers. Alan and I have purchased vegetables we never have tried before. It’s fun. The growers themselves will explain to you how best to prepare an unfamiliar item. The folks at Hines Valley Farm, for instance, coached me on how to prepare kohlrabi, which was good and a nice departure from turnips.
When we go to the Farmers’ Market, we make it a point to patronize the growers who use either organic methods or, at least, “natural” methods that exclude the use of pesticides. I find myself getting a little personally offended by the growers who spray poison on the food and then look me in the eye and try to sell it to me. Tolley said about 70 percent of the produce vendors at the market use “some kind of organic practices.” Signage at each booth indicates when the produce is grown using special methods. If it doesn’t say so on a sign, assume the farm uses conventional methods including powerful pesticides. The meat purveyors, on the other hand, all use some kind of sustainable methods, Tolley said. Some are organic. Yes, the organic products are more expensive. And sometimes the produce doesn’t look as perfect. But I feel better about it.
Tolley says there will be challenges next year. As more retailers and restaurants move to the Market Square, Market Street and Union Avenue areas, the space to put up stalls on sidewalks may get a little more short in supply. When Lime Fresh opens in the Arnstein Building, for instance, the proprietors my need its sidewalk space to remain clear. And that’s where the Farmers’ Market’s own booth currently is located. But Tolley will use the winter to find solutions and talk to folks about possible alternatives. There’s a parking lot she’s eyeing, for instance. I have confidence she’ll work something out.
One thing that, unfortunately, won’t be worked out is the return of the popular Market Mixer cocktail contest. State alcohol authorities this year shut down the monthly contest, which allowed patrons to pay a flat fee and then stop by participating restaurants who competed to make the best cocktail using a specific ingredient supplied by the Farmers’ Market. It was illegal, apparently, on many levels. But it sure was fun!
We are sad to see the Farmers’ Market come to a close. We look forward to May to see what new and old delights our grower friends will come up with. Until then, here’s a look at our very favorite vendors at the Market Square Farmers’ Market.
I can’t say enough about Greg Blankenship at Gregory’s Greenhouse. When we moved from the suburbs to downtown, the only thing I really missed was my herb garden. Greg planted me one in a beautiful container. We have used those herbs all summer and fall and think of him whenever we do. His motto is “beautifying Knoxville one container at a time!” We highly recommend him for his great seasonal container arrangements, among other things.
This is Janet King of King’s Hydrofarm in South Knoxville. She makes the best pies ever! Strawberry, apple and peach for $5 each. I had a dinner party the other day and she even sold me some she was making to take to the Market the next day. They were still warm when I sent my intern to pick them up. (Being an intern at Moxley Carmichael can be an interesting job!)
Almost every Saturday without fail we buy a dozen eggs from J.D. Dimick of Happy Harvest Farm in New Market. He wasn’t at the Market this past Saturday, but here’s a photo I took of him last October.
Thanks so much to the great folks who keep the Market Square Farmers’ Market running smoothly.
Here are links to websites of some of those vendors mentioned here. Click on the name. If you don’t see a link, it is because the vendor didn’t have a website or I couldn’t find it. Hines Valley Farm, Terraced Garden Farms, Cheesecakes and Breads by Rick, VG’s Bakery, Mountain Meadows Farm, Colvin Family Farm, Gregory’s Greenhouse, King’s Hydrofarm, Marble City Glassworks, Sweetwater Valley Farm.