“Unaltered nature.” This was one vendor’s response when asked why so many people seem interested in farmers’ markets these days. “People are tired of corporate, processed foods. This is getting back to traditional nature,” he continued. Many vendors had similar sentiments. “Nothing’s ever as fresh as here.” “You get to build a community.” “It’s a better taste.” “You know where your food is coming from.”
Each of these quotes came from vendors at the 12 South Farmers’ Market, a market founded in the summer of 2011 by Ms. Mary Hyatt. The tents come up every Tuesday from 3:30 to 6:30 May through October. The market can support 36 vendors in total, both seasonal and full-time, and applications are submitted online.
The 12 South Market is one of several farmers’ markets across Tennessee, and across the country. Between 1960 and 2000, the number of farmers’ markets nationwide grew from around 100 to over 3,000. Since then, the numbers have only gotten larger. The growth shows a revival of an older kind of food-distribution system. In this system, farmers, consumers, and other producers come together to buy directly from each other, rather than going through middlemen and other retailers.
Nashville has a rich history of farmers’ markets, starting with its downtown market. The Nashville Farmers’ Market was created in the early 1800’s, where it began on the town square. Back then, market vendors would line up their wagons on the square four to five rows deep to sell their produce. In the 1930’s, however, a new Davidson County Courthouse was created, and a new Market House had to be constructed on the north side of the square. In the mid-1950’s, the Market House moved again to a new location just north of downtown on Jefferson Street. In 1995, the market was renovated, and now covers roughly 16 acres of urban land.
The Flea Market is open Friday through Sunday. There, shoppers can buy from more than 150 farmers and merchants during peak growing season (May-November), and throughout the year, they can find ranchers, dairy farmers, cheese-makers, bakers, crafters, and flea merchants, as well as farm-direct products like honey, jams, and jellies. Inside the Market House, 14 locally owned restaurants and shops offer a variety of foods to shoppers year-round, and the Grow Local Kitchen provides culinary classes and catering with fresh market ingredients. This is a bit different than its origins two hundred years ago, but as one vendor at the 12 South market said, “The farmers’ market is a place that’s always growing and evolving.”
Back in 12 South, the market I visited also had a variety of booths like the market downtown. In addition to fruits and vegetables, shoppers in 12 South could buy cheeses, meat products, pastas, flowers, candies, broths, necklaces, breads, and even macarons. There were food trucks, live music, and a craft corner under a pavilion for the children.
Before I left, I had a chance to talk to some of the vendors and learn a little more about their businesses, their history with the farmers’ market, and why they believe these markets have become so popular.
Delvin Farms is a farm right outside of Franklin. They are certified organic, and all of their fruits and vegetables are picked fresh the same morning. Their booth has been at the 12 South Market since it opened in 2011, and they also sell at the markets in East Nashville and Franklin, as well as Whole Foods, some restaurants, and their own farm store. When asked what drew them to the farmers’ markets and why they kept coming back year after year to 12 South, Amelia, a vendor with Delvin Farms, said that she likes the customers, interacting with them, and forming a connection with the community.
Brittany, an intern with Bells Bend Farms near Ashland City, had something similar to say. “It’s a more honest practice. You’re meeting the farmers, building a community. There’s more intention.” While this was the farm’s first season with the 12 South Farmers’ Market, they have been to several others, including the market downtown and the market at Richland Park. The farm sells to farmers’ markets, some restaurants, and to CSAs, or “consumer supported agriculture.” They use no sprays on their crops, and whatever is not sold by the end of the season goes to food banks, is traded within the community, or is composted.
Local Blossoms, an offshoot of the Belle Meade farm Bountiful Blessings, was also experiencing its first season with 12 South, though Bountiful Blessings was midway through its 7th. Both branches of the farm sell here at the 12 South Farmers’ Market, the St. George Farmers’ Market, and to CSAs and restaurants. The CSAs operate year round, and all of the produce sold is harvested within 24 hours. When asked why she thought there was a growing interest in farmers’ markets, Kirsten, the founder of Local Blossoms said, “People want to know where their food comes from. There’s a sense of awareness and wanting to make a difference in what you eat.” That local awareness also extends from their farm to the rest of their community. With Bountiful Blessings, no food goes to waste. What is not sold is donated to the Nashville Food Project after the market, and any excess food is given to those in need, eaten by the people on the farms, or composted.
One of the last people I spoke to was Mary Self, the marketing manager for the 12 South Market. In regard to the market, she said, “It’s really about building relationships. When you buy from a farmers’ market, you know that 99 percent of those proceeds go to the farmer. It’s more sustainable.”
So if you are interested in supporting your local community, cutting down on greenhouse gases from transportation emissions, and helping your local economy, you may consider looking into farmers’ markets. If interested, check out the “Farmers Markets” tab on the Pick Tennessee website to find one near you!
The Office of Sustainable Practices at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation was created to advance a culture of sustainability across the department, state government and with our various partners through an action-based approach. Conserving resources and using energy wisely makes sense on a basic level: It saves money and positively impacts our health and environment today and for future generations. Connect with the Office of Sustainable Practices on its website. Read all the Office of Sustainable Practices MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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