By Dave Russell
The Jackson County Farmers Market this month marks 20 years of local produce, crafts and more.
Western Carolina University Nutritionist Karen White was the driving force in starting the market. In a June 23, 2000 letter to various community members, she asked for help in establishing a Jackson County Tailgate Market Planning Committee.
“Last week I was driving through Waynesville and noticed a half dozen trucks parked in a parking lot with fresh produce and honey in the backs and people hanging about in front,” she wrote. “I thought, ‘That’s easy – I could start something like that.”
The Jackson County Farmers Market set up in its current Bridge Park location just three months later.
The first five years featured between five and 10 booths at the Bridge Park location, according to County Extension Agent Christy Bredenkamp, who also figured prominently in the market’s genesis.
“We were really scrambling to get vendors to come at the beginning,” Bredenkamp said. “The more vendors you have, the more customers you have, the more customers you pull in, the more people want to have a booth. It just kind of took time to build that up.”
In the beginning, there were no vendor fees.
“We did have a collection basket for vendors to contribute whatever they felt led to,” Bredenkamp said. “There were no guidelines but the prevalent rule was that you only sold what you grew.”
Later in the year, or in 2001, Jim Sellers, Neil Dawson and others would bring in a truckloads of apples, watermelon, corn etc.
“Also in 2001 Cathy Calabrese, Thomas Crowe, Aquilla Greene and more vendors joined us,” she said.
By the end of 2004, the Cooperative Extension faded out and let White and the vendors take ownership of the market, Bredenkamp said.
In about 2007, Susannah Patty become the first official market manager.
In 2009, the vendor fee was set at $15 and in 2013 at $90.
By 2010, the average number of vendors had grown to 20-32 depending on the month.
A winter market began on Saturdays first at a Methodist Church in about 2011. It’s now at Bridge Park.
Jenny McPherson became manager about that time, and a board of directors was established.
The market incorporated in 2012; not as a nonprofit, but as a business, according to current Market Manager Lisa McBride, who took the position in 2017.
“The average number of vendors right now is about 28-30,” McBride said. “We have fewer crafters and some other vendors this year who decided not to come because of COVID-19. We also don’t have as much space because we had to spread out and there are not as many vendor spaces.”
The Jackson County Farmers Market is open from 9 a.m. until noon from April through October at Bridge Park. Beginning in November, hours change to 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
The market sets up at Innovation Station in Dillsboro from 3:30-6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
The market accepts EBT SNAP benefits.