Market Square Farmers’ Market: As growers learn lessons, the market gets better for customers

Isaac Colvin from Colvin Family Farm, gives brussels sprouts to a customer.

Isaac Colvin from Colvin Family Farm gives Brussels sprouts to a customer.

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.

This beautiful - and healthful -- savoy cabbage was at the Mountain Meadows Farm booth Saturday.

This beautiful - and healthful -- savoy cabbage was at the Mountain Meadows Farm booth Saturday.

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.

John Ledbetter and Diana Hun at Hines Valley Farm offer great produce -- and advice! Their vegetables are certified organic.

John Ledbetter and Diana Hun at Hines Valley Farm offer great produce -- and advice! Their vegetables are certified organic.

Almost every Saturday we have bought potatoes from Bob Due of Terraced Garden Farm in Claiborne County.

Almost every Saturday we have bought potatoes from Bob Due of Terraced Garden Farm in Claiborne County. Even though it was so chilly he had to wear this coat, on Saturday Bob was still having his Cruze Farm ice cream!

Every week we buy a gourmet loaf of bread from Rick and Mary Ann Rickerman. My favorite is jalapeno cheddar; Alan likes the herb.

Every week we buy a gourmet loaf of bread from Rick and Mary Ann Rickerman. My favorite is jalapeno cheddar; Alan likes the herb.

Why go to one bakery when you can go to two? We also get sliced wheat bread from VG's Bakery almost every week. This is Kamie Jett selling us our loaf last Saturday.

Why go to one bakery when you can go to two? We also get sliced wheat bread from VG's Bakery almost every week. This is Kamie Jett selling us our loaf last Saturday.

Every Saturday we visit Shannon Meadows from Mountain Meadows Farm near Norris. We always get tomatoes. And usually some other veggies and fruits, too.

Every Saturday we visit Shannon Meadows from Mountain Meadows Farm near Norris. We always get tomatoes. And usually some other veggies and fruits, too.

You don't see this at Kroger. But you do at Mountain Meadows Farm.

You don't see this at Kroger. But you do at Mountain Meadows Farm.

The guys at Colvin Family Farm are so friendly and helpful. Here is a link to a great story the News Sentinel ran about their farm. Click here.

Adam Colvin chats while he works.

Adam Colvin chats while he works. We buy something from them almost every week.

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.

Greg Blankenship with a pretty little holiday plant.

Greg Blankenship with a pretty little holiday plant.

I bought these paperwhites from him on Saturday. He said to store them outside and bring them inside two weeks before my annual cookie party, which is next month. They should bloom just in time. We'll see!

I bought these paperwhites from him on Saturday. He said to store them outside and bring them inside two weeks before my annual cookie party, which is next month. They should bloom just in time. We'll see!

Alan can't tolerate spicy foods, so we can't really buy many of the beautiful peppers offered by Rushy Springs Farm. But we have bought their onions all season long.

Alan can't tolerate spicy foods, so we can't really buy many of the beautiful peppers offered by Rushy Springs Farm. But we have bought their onions all season long.

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!)

Janet King and one of her fantastic pies

Janet King and one of her fantastic pies

This is Rose Najar. I've bought two beautiful sets of gourds from her. But lately she's been selling hand-painted pieces of slate, which make great hostess gifts.

This is Rose Najar. I've bought two beautiful sets of gourds from her. But lately she's been selling hand-painted pieces of slate, which make great hostess gifts.

Marble City Glass Works has a beautiful booth. I've got my eye on some of their whimsical birds.

Marble City Glass Works has a beautiful booth. I've got my eye on some of their whimsical birds.

Jeffrey Key was staffing the Sweetwater Valley Farms cheese booth Saturday. We usually make a purchase.

Jeffrey Key was staffing the Sweetwater Valley Farms cheese booth Saturday. We usually make a purchase.

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.

J.D. Dimick

J.D. Dimick

Thanks so much to the great folks who keep the Market Square Farmers’ Market running smoothly.

From left, volunteer Art Carmichael and staffers Kimberly Pettigrew and Charlotte Tolley.

From left, volunteer Art Carmichael and staffers Kimberly Pettigrew and Charlotte Tolley.

John Schmid is another Market volunteer. He posed here on Saturday with mayoral candidate Madeline Rogero who was visiting the Market.

John Schmid is another Market volunteer. He posed here on Saturday with mayoral candidate Madeline Rogero who was visiting the Market.

We ran into our buddies Ellen and David Keim taking advantage of the Market Square Farmers' Market Sunday.

We ran into our buddies Ellen and David Keim taking advantage of the Market Square Farmers' Market Saturday as the season winds down.

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.

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