By Heather Mullinix
It's Sunday morning in Chattanooga and the First Tennessee Pavilion is a buzz of activity as farmers bring in their fresh-from-the-farm produce, bakers unload fresh baked breads and sweet treats and crafters and artists put up displays of paintings, jewelry, furniture and more.
It's the Chattanooga Market, a weekly gathering of local producers offering their wares to thousands of guests, with a philosophy of "Local Is Better."
"You have to have grown it, baked it or sewn it to sell it," explained Melissa Siragusa, with Chattanooga Public Market, the nonprofit organization that puts on the Chattanooga Market as well as the River Market and Ringgold Market. "We want the producer to communicate with the patron and give them the story behind a product or to be able to demonstrate their craft. People like knowing something about what they're buying."
The Chattanooga Market is in its 12th year and is the region's largest authentic market. Over the years, it's become an icon in the community and a popular destination for picking up fresh produce to include in the Sunday family dinner or to enjoy finding unique, personal gifts for friends and family. It was recognized as the No. 2 market this past year in Livability's ranking of America's Best Local Farmers Markets.
The Chattanooga Market season runs from April through November, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time. There's also a holiday market in December.
Chattanooga Public Market also organizes two other craft and food markets, The Chattanooga River Market and the Ringgold Market in the historic downtown area of Ringgold, GA.
Siragusa explained the River Market, held at at the Tennessee Aquarium Plaza on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is smaller than the Chattanooga Market, with about 25 to 30 crafters, and doesn't include food producers.
"At the River Market, people are coming from Nashville or Atlanta or wherever and visiting the Aquarium and they enjoy walking through the River Market," Siragusa said. "It's a nice way to showcase local artists."
The newest market in the Chattanooga Public Market family is the Ringgold Market. With a short season of June through Labor Day, it offers a different vibe, as well, and focuses primarily on fresh farm products.
"It's a hometown, selling produce out of the back of your truck type market," Siragusa said.
The Ringgold Market operates Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
Food is a star at the Chattanooga Market, with tempting strawberries, baskets full of fresh greens — even a living salad bowl — and in-season favorites, like squash and carrots. You can also find homemade jams, jellies and preserves and pick up some fresh baked bread to enjoy it with. You can sample flavored goat cheese and get some locally raised beef to cook up for dinner.
You can also keep your strength up as you work your way through the 120 to 150 vendors on hand each week with local food trucks and eateries offering barbecue, pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches, burgers and more, quench your thirst with a locally brewed beverage and top it off with a Moon Pie — a Tennessee company.
Food takes center stage throughout the season, with many special events focusing on edible treats. One of those is the Street Food Festival set for June 30. Later this year, Aug. 11, catch five local chefs as they display their ingenuity and kitchen skills in the Five Star Food Fight, similar to televisions Iron Chef competition.
As you pass the food vendors, you start to see brightly colored scarves, eye-catching artwork, one-of-a-kind jewelry and more. The Chattanooga Market has a tremendous selection of hand-crafted items that would make great gifts — for friends, family and yourself. With each vendor comes a story, and with that story, an understanding of why this piece is so unique.
EL's SilverWear is a creation of Linda Asberry and daughter, Emily Wheeler. They take sterling or silver-plated silverware and fashion it into bracelets, rings, charms, earrings, watches and more. When asked if she could use a personal family heirloom to make a ring or bracelet, she laughed.
"I've cut up many grandmothers' silver," she said.
Many times, these family treasures would find themselves locked away for "special" occasions. By making the pieces into individual jewelry pieces, the memory of a loved one can be shared with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and used regularly.
Vintage Tints, by Artist Christie Zdon, repurposes stained glass and windows into unique art pieces. It's a joint project with her husband and they work year-round to create the works of art.
Carl Pendergrass was a U.S. postal worker in his former life. Now, he's a coppersmith, making bright water features of all sizes. Over time, those shiny pieces will take on a rich patina and last for years.
Kevin Crary has traveled from Asheville, NC, with several paintings, some on canvas and some on repurposed doors and more. He's got a unique style and his paintings offer eye catching scenes you'll look at again and again, always discovering something you didn't see before.
Design Diva Nancy Sutton gently admonishes patrons with "There is no such thing as too much bling!" as they browse her collection of handmade jewelry pieces.
Designers Dave and Tammy Anders can help perk up your yard with unique garden art, like a metal peacock to display beautiful bottles in your yard — a great alternative to a bottle tree.
Vendors have to apply in oder to take part in the markets, and they have to meet several requirements, including living in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina or North Carolina.
"We look for authenticity," Siragusa said. "When it comes to artistry, you have to have significantly altered something. Some elements of the piece may be purchased, but the entire product needs to be considered a new creation."
The application process includes review by the product review panel, who will determine if the product meets the standards of the market and will provide a good "fit" for the merchandise available. Site visits are conducted of farms and studios to ensure the seller is the producer.
While promoting local agriculture, commerce and tourism are goals for the market, organizers also want to offer a fun environment for all ages. There's live music, demonstrations, children's activities and more. Each week has a theme, like Father's Day Brew and Bluegrass, which featured local breweries offering their local beers along with some great area bluegrass bands taking the stage.
This Sunday, the region's blueberry crop takes center stage with the Blueberry Festival. They'll have blueberry pie-eating contests and a large variety of products featuring the berry — or grab some fresh-piced blueberries to take home for your own concoctions!
Later in the year, look for the Chattanooga Oktoberfest, which expands the market hours to two days, Oct. 19-20.
The Chattanooga Market also offers a great venue for local musicians to showcase their talent, with two stages available for performances. Rock, country, bluegrass, or something in-between, performers are welcome to try out their material with a welcoming audience.
"We like to showcase budding musicians," Siragusa said. "It's an opportunity for them to perform before a live audience."
The Chattanooga Market also offers a venue for other nonprofit agencies to reach out to the community for support, with the Chattanoogins raising money for pediatric oncology patients seeking treatment at Erlanger's Children's Hospital. For a donation, market-goers could get their head or beard shaved by volunteer barbers, or add a little temporary color. During Father's Day activities, Habitat for Humanity hosted a Lego building contest. These special activities and events offer shoppers a chance to help out their community and the artisans and farmers of the area.
To learn more about the Chattanooga Market and see the calender of special events and performances, visit chattanoogamarket.com. The site will also link you to information about the River Market and the Ringgold Market.