|Market Manager Rhonda Hensley|
The farm fresh foods now being served at the hospital come mostly from a unique Mobile Farmers’ Market run by Rural Resources. The weekly picks are available not only to industry clients like the hospital, but to individuals and families. On the morning that I caught up with Market Manager Rhonda Hensley, she was busily driving her route through Greeneville.
|Kathy Kolb picks up her CSA basket|
Kathy Kolb is picking up a cash CSA basket because she’s decided to eat vegetarian, and this fits into her eating plan. She read about the Mobile Farmers’ Market in the newspaper. “I’ll be staying with this through the summer, ’cause I’ve been waiting on vegetables to come out.” Baskets start at just $15.
Hensley says that even if a customer doesn’t specify organic and it comes from small producers who can’t afford a USDA Organic seal, most of the produce is grown to organic guidelines or better. “Our farmers take really great pride in their produce. And it just so happens that most of our farmers are ladies. Many more women are getting into farming because they care. They care what their children eat. They care what their families eat, so they’re starting to grow their own food.” Hensley is so enthusiastic about sharing quality produce, that she insists I taste one of the fresh picked strawberries. Yes, they really are as scrumptious as they look!
Some growers are as young as 12 or 13 years old, some are elderly, all are local and interested in sustainable growing practices. Hensley understands how Rural Resources is creating a vital link between growers and customers. “We want the farmers to keep growing for us.” She’s thrilled that the program can pay small farmers a fair price for their produce and keep the cost to consumers competitive with similar quality foods at a store. In addition to supporting established farmers, Rural Resources teams at-risk youth with volunteers to teach farm and garden skills. The program offers a sustainable alternative to so much processed, shelved food that’s become common in American diets.
A combination of public grants and private support has kept the Rural Resources program going in Northeast Tennessee. Americorps has been funding Hensley’s salary, but a funding cut has taken away the part-time assistant who previously helped her. The Market received a grant last year from the Presbyterian Hunger Assistance Program, and relies on a variety of funding and volunteer sources. The bus is in need of some maintenance. Since a fire in 2009, the program is housed in a temporary building.
For a program in need of more financial support, there’s no lack of enthusiasm. Despite the challenges, the customer list is getting longer, and Hensley says she’s excited to “sell, sell, sell,” because she sees good things happening at Rural Resources. When I ask if the local schools are buying Greeneville produce for the children, she gets a twinkle in her eye, and she resists telling me too many details about how close that is to happening. This friendly woman says her involvement in the Mobile Farmers’ Market started five years ago, as an act of faith. “Everyone wants to eat healthy and fresh,” she says with a smile. It’s evident she’ll keep doing everything she can to nourish the people of her community.