An Open Letter to the Johnson City Farmer’s Market:
September 30, 2012, 10:10 PM
Filed under: Buy Local, Local Food, Resilience | Tags:

Hi blog readers. Below is my letter to the ‘Lot Manager’ of the Johnson City Farmer’s Market. If you too care about local food, please consider sending him and the market board your concerns. Rising food and energy prices affect us all. Buying and eating seasonal foods that don’t require trucking across country, or via Trans-Atlantic jets can enable us all to eat well, regardless of what our collective futures may hold. Thanks for ‘walking your talk’ and helping build a stronger, more resilient, LOCAL food system~Sam

Hello Mr. Benfield!

 As a new resident of Johnson City, I would like to tell you how much I’m enjoying visiting the market each week. But I’d like to ask why your produce vendors are allowed to bring in produce that they haven’t grown themselves, some of which I suspect is not even from this area? I recently bought some loose apples out of a bushel basket at your market, and when I got them home found one in the bag that had a supermarket type sticker attached to it with a bar code on it that said “Ginger Gold Apple”! Reading your vendor bylaws, I see that Article 2 states (in part) that “…The objective is to help and to promote small farm interests.” Do Ginger Gold Apples purchased from a commercial orchardist, perhaps several states away meet that objective? I think not and I wonder if other shoppers are feeling ‘deceived’ as well.

 I truly do want to continue to support your farmers and producers, but I also want to support a local food economy. Providing shoppers with LOCALLY grown foods (say, within a 50 mile radius) offers us the opportunity to connect with the growers, learn how our food is grown, and provides us with ready access to the freshest foods possible. Farmer’s Markets all over the country require their vendors to adhere to this policy, and have enjoyed much success in doing so.

As you can see in the map above,  Johnson City is surrounded by no less than six other counties! With a new, permanent home on the horizon, I do hope that you and your board will reconsider your own governing policy and that 2013 will be the year of supporting those of us that live and eat RIGHT HERE!
Thanks so much for your efforts.
Sam Jones

PS I would also love to see your website updated with current event and board members’ information, as well as a working Facebook link.


10 Comments so far
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This has happened to me as well!

Comment by fantasywritermom

AMEN! I’ve noticed that same disturbing characteristic of too many Farmers Market vendors, and now keep an eye out for labels that show on the crates they have behind them or under their tables. If nothing else, I ask. Those who raise their own get my business. Thanks for bringing this up, Sam.
Sandy Westin
Boone, NC

Comment by sandyrwestin

Good for you Sam- this is the reason we do not participate in the JC market. Jonesborough is much more strict- but you cannot walk to it! Eliz

Comment by Elizabeth Malayter

I’ve expressed the same concern about a new market in Kpt.
A friend told me that she was informed that ‘local’ means 250 miles.
Well, some things I bought were from Fla. That’s more than 250 miles, even as the crow flies.
Great report.

Comment by doug

Hi all,
Below is a comment about this issue, and my response. Comments anyone?


I just readyour blog about outside produce. This is the age old debate. Without the produce therewould be littleif nothing to sell atmost Farmers markets in EastTN early andlate in the season. Until more hoophouses get started the outside produceis what brings the customers in. I have seen and heard customers saw,when thereis no tomatoes,etc., that they will not return because there was nothing they wanted to prchase. There was plenty of lettuce,etc,but they werelooking for green beans, ect.

There are still those people who want the perfect tomato,not the homegrown one. Time and time again this happens. Untilpeople are forced to purchase what is available,there will be outside produce and there should be. THe vendor in Erwin who brought in produce was the one who attracted the customers for everyone else.

Wemay notlike it but reality is reality. The vendors who bring the produce add another dimension to the pot. There are very few if any FM that exclude outside producecompletely. I challenge you to name one between here and Knoxville. Do not say Jonesborough. Their definition isanything thatis grown on your farm,including goat cheese from North Carolinaand Grainger County tomatoes.

As far as what businesses are allowed to sell- I know the ByLaws say “small business” what is the definition of a small business – Kmat vs.WalMart, FarmhouseGallery and Gardens vs WalMart, Judy’s Bakery vs. Starbucks – its a semantic call and open to interpretation. That is why there is a greivance procedure should one feel wronged.

This debate will go on and on and will be up to the Board and voting members to settle. If a customer does not want to purchase outside produce,thereare vendors who bring solely produce from thier farm. Isn’t it nice that that there is a choice!

I agree with a lot of what you say, I really do. But I try to keep the focus of this blog on the ideas and things that we must do to insulate and support ourselves during the years ahead and learning to eat seasonal, locally grown produce will someday mean the difference in thriving or surviving. I love bananas and cherries from California as much as anyone else haha! If we, as a society, don’t begin to transition to a diet based on what’s locally available and in season, I’m afraid we will all suffer. This won’t happen next week, nor next year, but Peak Oil has passed, our government is not ready yet to accept that business cannot go on ‘as usual’, and people have their heads in the sand. Mine’s there too many days. I don’t want to face the hard truth, but this cheap oil life we’ve created over the last 100 years is simply not sustainable, nor will it be changed overnight. It takes YEARS to enrich soils, learn to coax food from the ground, change consumers tastes and their eating habits and come up with new ways to make sure that populations are well fed-without cheap oil to do it. We must begin this transition now, not in 10 or 20 years.

So, even though in reality I’m well aware that no changes will be made at the Farmer’s Markets around this subject, I still feel it’s important that people begin to understand AND ACCEPT the limitations of our current food system. If that means we can’t eat Ginger Gold apples then we’ll eat VA Beauties and Libertys until someone decides to plant a ginger gold orchard here. Apple growing is one of those things that we can grow on these hillsides that doesn’t require diesel operated tractors and equipment to plant and harvest. There’s vacant land everywhere, and people out of work all over the county. hmmm…

I’m just trying, through this blog, to get people to start thinking about these hard issues we face. I want my grandkids to be able to eat long after I’m gone. Orchards, vineyards and community gardens planted now would ensure that. I guess what I’m asking here is this: is it better to make sure that everyone’s eating green beans in May now, so that a few growers can have better sales, or would it be better for everyone if we all accepted the fact that green beans trucked from Florida or wherever in May IS NOT SUSTAINABLE for anyone, but that there are many many foods that are available in May that can fill our bellies and pantries until the beans come in in June?

I’ll end by saying that I recognize the need for new markets to pull in as many customers as possible, through whatever means they can, and I’m sure Unicoi fits that description. But the JC market is well established and does NOT have to bring in food from other areas to keep folks coming back. Thank you so much for taking the time to write and to voice your concerns. They are quite valid but I still don’t feel that JC needs to allow this practice. How IS the Unicoi Market faring this year?


Comment by simpleintn

I agree with your comments 100%! I was fortunate enough to begin selling at the Kingsport market when “supplementing” your crop was not allowed. That market was still small and some of the farmers that started it were still vendors as well. It was nice how the growers complimented and helped each other.
The first concern was the customer not how much more the other sold nor having to worry about unloading the stuff they bought in Asheville or Chucky before it went bad. That is another concern that I have, how is the produce stored before and after market as the shelf life is very short of many products.
As I refer to the haulers as butt blister farmers I know they have the right to persue this type of business but have the integrity to inform customers. Do not try to think you are fooling anyone as the truth always comes out in time.
For the customer don’t be afraid to ask questions. A grower will be proud of their gardens and can tell you specifics: size of plant, bloom cycles, pests and the control of and we do have callouses on our hands and the typical farmers tan (it goes with the job)
Please look out for the local grower as we are becoming extinct. I have decided myself not to compete with the haulers and know of others becoming discouraged so fewer local growers will be available in the future. I will be concentrating on my greenhouse plants and not field crops because of the new market guidelines.
If you need a wider selection just get it while in the box stores and save gas, I do. Be informed and make decisions that are right for you without being fooled by others dishonesty.
Good luck to all local growers and the people who support them!!

Comment by Laura

Well Laura, I’m sure You would me more than welcome to join the Jonesboroughs Farmers Market. This market is truly a growers market.

Comment by Robert Senn

Well let me start by saying that I’m a vender at the Jonesborough Market, just my third year.
. I’m just a backyard gardener/grower. I was able to be the first to have home grown red ripe tomatoes this year in May. Yes I build a 8×16 hoop house,took the cover off.May 5th.I also had radishes, carrots, Swiss chard with out the hoop house. And the grower/producer brings the cheese not second hand,the same goes for the produce from NC the grower brings it, not second hand. Our Market does very well On opening day. Without the produce trucked in from Asheville,or where ever you let them. I visited the JC Market once and realized all you need was a clown making balloon animals, a Pronto Pup vender and Merry o Round and you would have a circus. Just my thoughts.. and my thoughts alone

Comment by Robert Senn

My fiance quit selling at J.C. Market because he got tired of having to compete with all the re-salers and truck haulers. He started selling in Jonesborough where they will kick you out for selling something you didn’t raise or grow. They kicked out a guy this season for bragging to another vendor about selling potatoes he got at Food City. His reply when they kicked him out of the market for good, “well I’ll just go to Johnson City….they allow anything there”. It’s a shame that more folks don’t think like you and support honestly local farmers who are trying to give the public something healthy and true. Thank you for making this issue more widely known. Maybe Johnson City Market will change. We would be a part of it again if they would.

Comment by Emily Peters

Glad to know I’m not the only one with a (huge) chip on my shoulder about this. I’ve wondered if a sort of “Keep it Local, Johnson City” Facebook group might bring awareness to the people who shop there to support it. If enough people jumped on it they might see that there was interest in something like that and be a little more honest.The most irritating thing is that no one is forced to label anything or even tell the truth when you talk to them, so everyone thinks they’re dealing with farmers.

Comment by Jennifer Grant

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