The local farmers market in Sylva continues to grow while providing a real sense of community

The Sylva community shops at the farmers market. Photo by Tanner Hall

A special atmosphere is created each Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon during the springtime with kids playing soccer, local products being bought and sold and friends catching up with each other, many with their dogs by their side.

The farmers market in Sylva sprouted up over 10 years ago. With only 4 or 5 venders, the market did not serve too many customers for the first 5 years. Since then, it has grown exponentially and has become a fundamental piece of the community.

Market Manager Jenny McPherson said that her favorite aspect is seeing all of the people and the sense of community and friendship.

Western’s School of Health Sciences professor, customer and market steering committee member, Baldwin Sanders, enjoys the atmosphere, but is proud to promote the local economy as well. For every $1 spent at the farmers market, the local economy gets $3, she said.

As a nutritionist, Sanders also takes advantage of the fresh food. She helps to guide regulations on the steering committee and then she is able to meet with the venders in person at the market. Unlike most of the processed food seen at the Food Lion just a couple of miles away, customers know exactly where the food is coming from.

“It’s just a refreshing place,” said Sanders.

Neil and Peggy Dawson have been vending at the market since the very beginning. Peggy Dawson agreed with Sanders about the importance of fresh food.

“It is absolutely imperative to have locally grown fresh vegetables,” said Dawson. “My favorite aspect [of the market] is the gratification of being able to teach people about what they eat and the benefits thereof.”

She said that in the beginning, it was pretty much just venders selling to the other venders. Now, routine venders have a following. “I think that’s what they’ve done the best, is cultivate a following,” commented Dawson.

The farmers market recently took an important step in continuing its growth with the added ability to take food stamps. The market now provides a brand new shopping opportunity for many.

“It’s a great thing because the people that cannot afford their food now have another option besides the grocery store,” said McPherson.

Although food is one of the main focuses of the market, there are also non-food venders participating. McPherson said that they try to keep the ratio between food and non-food venders at around 60 percent to 40 percent.

Food venders are accommodated, even if they show up the day of the market, while there is a short application process for non-food venders. There is currently a waiting list for non-food venders, but those interested will be certainly addressed at some point during the season.

Overall, the farmers market is much more than just a trip for groceries and goods or just another source of income for those selling products. It is a community-building experience for customers, venders and market managers alike.

You can find more information about both the market and the vender application process on their website and Facebook page.

If you haven’t been to the market yet check out what you can see on Saturday morning in the parking lot at the creek park in Sylva.