Meet Me at the Market


Finding that perfect taste among the vendors of the farmers market is a summer delight

I can remember my mother admonishing me to eat my vegetables. I resisted her throughout my childhood and made fun of my father’s devotion to “homegrown tomatoes.” Boy, would they be proud of me now. It’s springtime in East Tennessee, and I am anxious to get my hands on all of those fresh farm products I used to shun.

This year, spring is a reward for surviving 2021, and the best thing about it is the opening of our local farmers markets. I must admit I’m a farmers market junkie–the more, the better. Each spring and early summer I stock my screened breezeway with fresh fruits and vegetables straight from area farms to my country pine table (also purchased from a vendor I met at a farmers market). A man’s wealth is not measured by gold, but by how many gorgeous homegrown tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, and ears of corn he can display on a pine breezeway table.

When I share information about farmers markets with you guys, I want you to get one thing straight–I’m in it for the taste. Sure, fresh farm vegetables are nutritious and economical, but I’m after that homegrown in East Tennessee soil taste. 

Nathan Sparks

Of course, it’s good to support local farmers, and markets are a good place to see old friends and meet new people, but, for me, nothing equates to the taste of a ripe and ready homegrown tomato. You don’t see a lot of young people at farmers markets, and that’s because you have to be at least 40 years of age to appreciate homegrown vegetables.

Farmers, growers, bakers, and specialty food artisans serving the Knoxville area are listed on Many vendors sell only their specialties, including heirloom tomatoes (Cherokee purples), peaches and cream corn, cut herbs, berries, jams and jellies, and baked goods.

If you prefer to buy straight off the farm, one of my favorite stops is the Coning Family Farm in the Carpenters community of south Blount County. On every visit there, I’m reminded of my grandmother who tended to her own garden as a child less than a mile from where the Coning family sells great cantaloupes, watermelons, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Blount County tomatoes are a hidden treasure and well worth the short drive to the picturesque foothills farm. My trips to Blount County always include a lunch stop at Small Town BBQ in Friendsville.

A popular vendor at the Dixie Lee and Ebenezer markets is Abundant Acres Farm of Athens, Tennessee, owned and operated by Dean and Carmen Yoder. The Yoder family has produced and sold the most beautiful and delicious vegetables in the region since 2008. Usually first appearing at market in early June, you will find them in the month of May at their Starr Mountain Greenhouse at 259 County Road 608 in McMinn County selling bedding plants and colorful hanging flower baskets. 

The Yoders are hardworking farmers, especially since their five children transitioned off the farm and into the service of their Mennonite religion. All the Yoder children are now performing regular mission work and are also engaged in careers to provide for others as teachers, wilderness camp counselors, Bible study missionaries, or as church leaders on a South Dakota Indian reservation. 

The Yoders are not only successful at raising flowers and vegetables, but they have lovingly raised five faithful children dedicated to making a better world for others.

Dean Yoder builds the fertility of his two cultivated acres by use of peas and grasses as cover crops and with the use of leaf compost in the off seasons, and he only uses natural fertilizers. The Yoders weed by hand and use no chemicals, producing the vegetables shown along with this article. Expect lettuce, cucumbers, squash, and kale from the Yoders in early June and a variety of the most tasty tomatoes in July.

One pre-pandemic summer afternoon, I was standing in a long line to buy vegetables from the Yoder family, and as the line slowly moved forward I was positioned behind a tall, elderly man and his short, unpleasant wife. When we finally reached the elegant display of vegetables and strawberries, the tall gentleman suddenly walked away to another vendor without even a farewell. You could say he left his wife “holding their bags.” Not noticing her husband had left, the lady saw some green onions that she had to add to her plunder causing her to half turn and speak to me over her left shoulder, “Give me one of those bags!” she ordered, referring to the plastic bags hanging on the front of the display table. I quickly tore one loose and handed it to her and she embarrassingly said, “I’m sorry, I thought you were my husband,” to which I replied, “That’s okay. The way you said that, I thought you were my wife.”

In just a few short weeks, I’ll be cutting up one of those great Yoder tomatoes and a pickling cucumber into a large bowl, covering it with balsamic vinegar and blue cheese crumbles. I’m not sure that’s best for my arthritis, but who cares? My family makes fun of me about the gazpacho soup I make all summer with farmers market chopped tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and cucumbers, only to convert my creation to salsa later by simply adding jalapenos, garlic, cumin, and cilantro. When we grow tired of the soup, we enjoy salsa for weeks thereafter.

See you soon at a farmers market near you.   

Regional Farmers Markets

Dozens of East Tennessee producers call the region’s farmers markets home throughout the season selling produce, herbs, meat, cheese, and more. Find one close to home:

Ebenezer Road Farm Market
Ebenezer United Method Church,
1001 Ebenezer Rd
Tuesdays | 3–6pm

Market Square Farmers’ Market
Market Square,
Downtown Knoxville
Wednesdays | 10am–1pm
Saturdays | 9am–1pm

New Harvest Farmers’ Market
New Harvest Park,
4775 New Harvest Lane
Thursdays | 3–6pm

Hardin Valley Farmers Market
Hardin Valley Church of Christ,
11515 Hardin Valley Rd
Thursdays | 3–6pm

Dixie Lee Farmers Market
Renaissance Farragut,
12740 Kingston Pike
Saturdays | 9am–noon

Eastside Sunday Market
Walter Hardy Park,
2020 MLK Jr Ave
Sundays | 1-4pm

Maryville Farmers’ Market
Founders’ Square,
2003 E Broadway Ave
Saturdays | 9am–noon

Oak Ridge Farmers Market
Jackson Square,
281 Broadway Ave
Saturdays | 8am–noon

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