By Kendal Groner
With the sixth season of the Unicoi Farmer’s Market now underway, the Town of Unicoi recently announced that it has received an $85,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Health intended to support and promote healthy lifestyles through the enhancement of public spaces.
The grant, “Access to Health through Healthy Active Built Environment,” will be used to build a farmers market pavilion alongside the Mountain Harvest Kitchen, as well as nutrition education programming and a walking campaign known as “Footsteps with Foodies.”
“We’re excited to kick off the summer season with these community programs,” said Lee Manning, director of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. “Footsteps with Foodies coincides with our Farmers Markets, Tuesdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., so it’s a great way to pick up some fresh produce and be active with your family and neighbors.”
Manning said the walking campaign has already begun at the farmers market and is a six-week program that coincides with educational seminars related to outdoor activity. She said another benefit of the grant-funded projects is that they also ramp up activities at the market.
“We have kids coming and instructors from places such as Food City, ETSU College of Medicine and the Health Department Extension,” Manning said. “Then we are doing nutrition cooking demonstrations and walking on the trails together for an hour. It’s a nice healthy eating and healthy living activity.”
With construction on the 30-by-60 foot farmers market pavilion expected to begin this fall, Manning is optimistic about the growth of the market and also mentioned the benefit of having a certified commercial kitchen that can be easily accessed by farmers and food entrepreneurs.
“We have the storage space, so farmers can store their produce in our walk-in coolers or freezers and then, obviously, we have the prep space where people could make beef jerky or tamales and things like that,” Manning said. “I think the town is completely committed and dedicated to local food businesses and farmers and producers, food artisans and entrepreneurs in general.”
Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch echoed Manning’s thoughts on the importance of supporting healthy lifestyles, farmers, and entrepreneurs.
“It’s a win-win for farmers, local businesses and the community,” Lynch said. “The Mountain Harvest Kitchen was designed to grow food businesses and encourage healthy eating. We’re thrilled to have the Department of Health’s support making that happen.”
The Unicoi Farmers Market is still looking for additional vendors for this season. Manning added that by having the market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, this still allows vendors to attend evening markets such as the Erwin Farmers Market or Downtown Elizabethton Farmers Market.
“We’re looking for all types of vendors, farmers of course, you can do crafts, and then food artisans, which is kind of cool because tied in with the kitchen, you are able to do a lot more preparation work that you couldn’t do at the farmers market,” Manning said.
To learn more about becoming a vendor and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen’s commitment to supporting healthy communities, visit https://facebook.com/MHK.UnicoiTN/ or call 330-9650.