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Johnson County Farmers Market to open next week

By: Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer/Photographer

The Johnson County Farmers Market (JCFM) kicks off its sixth season on May 3 and new Market Manager Robert Back is confident that it will be the best one yet.
Since taking over the Market Manager position for the JCFM, Back has been working tirelessly to promote the present and the future of the Johnson County Farmers Market. Though the 2014 schedule is not yet complete, Back informed The Tomahawk that this year’s market season will include several events geared toward children, tomato and bean celebrations, a fall harvest and a Christmas in July festival.
Unlike saturated markets in the surrounding regions, Johnson County Farmers Market is currently eager to welcome new vendors. Comparatively, the JCFM rules and regulations promote growth rather than hinder it with the main stipulation being that the vendor must live within a 150-mile radius of Johnson County. The vending fee is $5 per day or $115 for the entire season, which will run from May 3 until October 25.
Currently, the JCFM is held in Courthouse Square (110 Court Street, Mountain City). However, the JCFM board and Robert Back have announced that finding a permanent home for the market is at the top of their to-do lists for the 2014 season. “We are looking to find a permanent location for the market where we can erect a pavilion,” said Robert Back. Dennis Shekinah, who acts as webmaster and is also a frequent patron at the JCFM told The Tomahawk, “The optimism and enthusiasm is very high; more than ever before. The board is hopeful in finding a permanent home for this important community service.”
As a part of their community-oriented efforts, the Johnson County Farmers Market offers both programs and information dedicated to the well being of local residents. With 4,605 people in Johnson County currently receiving food stamps, the JCFM recognized the need for action. The JCFM’s “double food stamp dollars” program allows those using EBT and SNAP benefits to double their purchase up to $10. With the ever-rising cost of fresh produce, the Double Food Stamp Dollars program makes it easier for low-income residents to increase their access to healthy food.
The JCFM also works to promote the sustainability of local agriculture and hopes to inspire a new generation of farmers. Robert Back told The Tomahawk that the 2014 market “will have many resources available for all types of agriculture for both home and farm. We will also have information on food safety, canning and preserving foods to enjoy farm fresh foods all year long.” Those interested in embarking on an agricultural pursuit on either a large or small scale are invited to visit the JCFM tent to gain a plethora of valuable information.
The market has received several grants from various sources including Appalachian Farmers Market Alliance, Wholesome Wave, Blue Ridge Seeds of Change, USDA and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. These grants have helped keep the JCFM afloat but in order to prosper, it must receive increased community support. Having gained 501(c)(3) non-profit status, Robert Back is currently planning to launch a “Friends of the Farmers Market” program in which interested parties can pledge their support to ensure the future of the market.
If you’re interested in becoming a JCFM vendor or if you would like additional information about the market, visit www.johnsoncountyfm.org but the best way to get to know the JCFM is to attend the opening market on May 3. Rumor has it that grass fed beef, various fresh greens, fresh herbs, plants, candles, photos, soaps and lotions are just some of the items that will be available. The Johnson County Farmers Market leaders and vendors seemingly strive to create a welcoming environment and newcomers often remark at just how friendly and community-minded the JCFM market leaders and vendors are. Representatives man a hospitality tent at every market complete with refreshments and the staff is eager to answer questions and hear suggestions. The market hopes that Johnson County residents will come out and show their support and help the JCFM secure a successful future.