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Christian Mission Brings Farmers and Residents Together

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Rainy Saturdy Morning at Brainerd Farmers’ Market

Just across the street from a typical grocery store and strip mall, in a modest Chattanooga, Tennessee neighborhood, the parking lot is bustling with people at the Brainerd Farmers’ Market.  A rain shower has scattered the usual Saturday morning crowd, and some vendors are packing up.  They’ve brought flowers and garden plants, fresh food and more.

Brainerd Farmers’ Market is nestled on the grounds of Grace Episcopal Church.  The Reverend Susan J. Butler explains, “Indeed, Saturday mornings here, probably nine months out of the year, is like a mini-church, the fellowship angle of a church, without the actual worship.”  While shoppers and vendors are made to feel welcome, there’s no obligation to step inside on Sunday mornings.  Free music is a frequent addition to the open-air gatherings.  Parishioner Marion Pound shares, “I think it’s evangelical in a very low-key sort of way.  They don’t ever have to come to a service, but their coming and being a part of this is a way to preach the gospel.”

Farmers Alex McGregor and Wife Leslie Smith
with Farm Intern Allison Banks
Vendor Alexa McGregor and his wife, Leslie Smith are selling strawberry plants and more from their organic Walden Farm.  They’ve enlisted an intern to help at the market, and they tell me business has grown for them each year that they’ve participated at Brainerd. McGregor said, “Every year we’ve almost doubled our sales!”

Shoppers can not only bring cash, but they can use their EBT or food stamp cards for food and vegetable gardening items.  The church runs promotions to double the amount of points EBT card holders can use at the market, stretching their mission to feed the hungry.

Parishioner Kathleen Russell, who started the Farmers’ Market three years ago, says it attracts local vendors who use organic and sustainable practices, even if they’re not all USDA Organic certified. McGregor shared that his customers want to talk with him directly about his growing practices, and that means even more to his farm than a government seal.  Market manager Catherine Durham said the community is best served when the church can help keep shopping local.  “People feel really good when they buy from someone they know is part of their community,” added Russell.

Grace Episcopal’s GreenFaith Team Leader Marion Pound (left)
Brainard Farmers’ Market Founder (and GreenFaith Leader) Kathleen Russell

The Saturday morning market is part of a larger GreenFaith project the church is implementing. The project challenges congregations of faith to become environmental leaders through a wide range of sustainability programs.
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