Cultivating a Better Food Shed for Knoxville

What started as Market Square Farmers’ Market in 2004, expanded into the non-profit, Nourish Knoxville, which was created to take on projects in the Knoxville food shed that expand local food efforts. Nourish Knoxville was officially incorporated in 2013 as Market Director Charlotte Tolley convened a group of local-food loving people to become the first board of directors. From there they published the first East Tennessee Local Food Guide, opened their first Winter Farmers’ Market, and to this day works to cultivate healthy communities by supporting relationships between local farmers, producers, and the public.

Through many programs, including Nourish Kids, Nourish Moves, and Nourish Community, Nourish Knoxville strives to increase revenue for farmers, introduce people to new fruits and vegetables, and help them get familiar and comfortable with local food. This work helps to reduce the stigma around income and empowers people to make better food choices. Nourish Knoxville operates three producer-only farmers’ markets –Market Square Farmers’ Market, New Harvest Farmers’ Market, and Winter Farmers’ Market –where these programs take place, as well as financially sponsors the Eastside Sunday Market. In 2021, they have seen over 109,000 people come through the markets. They accept EBT/SNAP at all their markets and operate a regional SNAP-doubling program called Double Up Food Bucks, which is an initiative of the national nonprofit the Fair Food Network at farmers’ markets and grocers across the country. This year alone, Nourish Knoxville has accepted over $65,000 in SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks for locally-grown foods at the 14 participating locations.

Nourish Kids gives children an opportunity to engage in the local food system through educational games, building relationships with farmers, and creating positive views of fruits and vegetables. Nourish Moves is a walking incentive program at the New Harvest Farmers’ Market that builds community while incentivizing people’s overall health. To participate, anyone ages 2 and up picks up a pedometer from the market’s Community Booth before walking around the market and surrounding trails, earning Produce Bucks to spend on fruits, vegetables, and food-producing plants for steps walked.

When the pandemic hit, the organization responded with Nourish Community to address decreased food access and the loss of income for farmers due to closures. They started buying eggs and produce from local farmers and working with Beardsley Community Farm to pack and distribute food bags to community members in need. To date, Nourish Knoxville and partners have distributed over 6,200 bags of fresh, locally-grown produce to the community through this program.

Nourish Knoxville’s work never stops. They are currently working with the Tennessee Department of Health to expand on their programming, incorporating more health education and initiatives. A program currently being piloted, is the Nourish Wellness, a workplace wellness program, which works with businesses near each of the markets to get the employees out and walking while incentivizing purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The motivation behind the work that Charlotte and her teams does never slows down. “That we get to work with a wide variety of people is why I enjoy doing this,” says Tolley. “The pandemic hit home, and everyone saw how truly important agriculture and supporting your local community is. This is the work we’ve been doing 20 years, so we were able to respond to needs quickly. It was a lot of work but gave us a renewed sense of importance of what we do.”

Last Updated: Dec 15, 2021 - 9:50:11