Tennessee’s Oldest Town Brings Foodies and Agriculturalists Together, Part 1

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Street view of the Jonesborough Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Karen Childress and staff

Tennessee’s oldest town, Jonesborough, is nestled in the northeast corner of Tennessee. Founded in 1779, the small vibrant town with a population of around 6,000 is commonly known for its National Storytelling Festival. In recent years however, Jonesborough is being recognized for local food initiatives which have enhanced the local economy, conserved natural resources, and provided learning opportunities to residents. Some of these initiatives include creating a farmers market, hosting farm to table dinners, and developing a store that also doubles as an educational classroom.

Though Jonesborough is small in size, the number and variety of farms, along with small specialty businesses drove the need for a facility where vendors could congregate to sell their products.

The initial groundwork for the Jonesborough Farmers Market was laid by farmer Heather Halsey, Curtis Buchanan, Karen Childress & Melinda Copp in 2007. Through a fundraiser organized by Childress and a $750 seed donation, the group was able to bring the Jonesborough Farmers Market to fruition.

As for Childress’ motivation for getting the Jonesborough Farmers Market started, she said, “A new farmer started selling her produce in our neighborhood, and my neighbors and I started talking about the potential for a market in Jonesborough. We were all interested in a true producer-only market, as there was not one in the area. We believed we had the community support to pull this off, and we took it from there!”

In May of 2008, the Jonesborough Farmers Market opened for business with eight vendors. One year later, the market became the first in the area to offer an online ordering system during the off-season market. Vendors simply list the available products, customers order, and the orders are delivered and paid for at a specified location.

The Jonesborough Farmers Market has had a consistent base of 35 vendors since 2010, with an additional 28 part-time vendors. Excitement escalated as the first two certified-organic producers participated in 2012, which increased the variety of products including pork, chicken, beef, duck, goat, and lamb. It’s much more though than just the products available at the market, it’s the entire experience people are enjoying.


Mural advertising the Jonesborough Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Karen Childress and staff

Debbie Ball, the Marketing Director of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Market Development Division, says, “Farmers markets play an important role in the social and economic development of local communities. When consumers buy directly from the farmer, their dollars stay in their community, strengthening the local economy. Farmers markets provide a place for communities to not only shop but to gather, share ideas, and promote the healthy lifestyles movement.”

She continues, “The Jonesborough Farmers Market is a great example of a community coming together to strengthen their local economy and build connections between the farmers and consumers.”

In recent years, communities have embraced the Saturday morning routine of going to the farmers markets. These markets have grown and developed into community centers, providing a place to not only purchase goods, but also connect with people.

“Our farmers market really is — somebody calls it Jonesborough’s front porch — it’s a real place you go and see your neighbors, see your friends, have a cup of coffee. It’s like a big party that you don’t have to do anything for but show up,” Childress said.

The Office of Sustainable Practicesat 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 onits website.

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