Downtown Bristol's fresh goods market in full summer bloom

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kevin Leonard flocked to the Farmers Market on State Street on July 17, saying it was too wet to work.

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Off and on, it rained all day in the Lime Hill community of Washington County, Virginia, where Leonard's family farms 235 acres, cultivating vegetables, hay and tobacco.

Leonard, 61, grows and sells beans, potatoes, peppers, onions, cabbage and broccoli.

"Our beans have really done well," said Leonard, whose family has been selling at the State Street Farmers Market in Bristol for 20 years. "Our biggest seller would be beans and tomatoes."

Ripening more every day, tomatoes and sweet corn are on the way to the market, Leonard said with a smile Wednesday afternoon.

And that will surely be welcome news to customers, said Mike Musick, 49, the market manager and recreation superintendent for Bristol, Tennessee.

"Produce is really starting to hit," Musick said. "Green beans are coming in. Tomatoes are coming in. . . . Now, throughout about mid-August, it doesn't get any better than this, market-wise."

While just nine diehard vendors turned out for Wednesday's rainy afternoon last week, 2 to 6 p.m., the market — on sunny Saturdays — usually attracts about 30 vendors, 8 a.m. to noon, Musick said.

"I think the strength of our market is our vendors, our people. A lot of the vendors and customers get to know each other," Musick said. "So that's always a nice thing, because you know who is growing your food."

Saturdays also could bring 300 or more customers on a given morning, Musick figured.

"We always get a few, new vendors each year, wanting to come out and give the market a try," Musick said. "And we are seeing some new faces, both vendor-wise and customers-wise."

This year's market boasts a new farming couple, Jerry and Ingrid Gagnon, from Castlewood, Virginia.

This couple sells chocolate zucchini bread, pickles, jam, eggs and pickled beets — all products from their 21-acre Castlewood Grove Farm on Copper Ridge Road.

"This all started with wanting to be farmers," said a smiling Jerry Gagnon, who moved with his wife from Michigan about a year ago.

This couple traveled across the United States, looking for a good climate and a nice place to farm, said Ingrid Gagnon, 47, a full-time agriculture student through online courses with the University of Colorado.

This summer, the Gagnons chose to sell at the Bristol market after visiting other similar markets in Abingdon and St. Paul, Jerry Gagnon said.

"There is a steady flow of people, and everybody seems friendly," said Jerry Gagnon, who works in the meat department of Food City in St. Paul, Virginia. "It is a pet-friendly area, too."

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Information from: Bristol Herald Courier, http://www.bristolnews.com