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April 19, 2012

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The Chattanooga Market opens this sunday. that, for many and a still growing number of Chattanoogans, means the season of selecting and eating some of the best food from local and regional farmers, restaurants and packaged food producers has arrived.

In many ways, it’s a great venue for experimentation for the purveyors and patrons alike. Concepts in food service have a very short window to take hold within their community and attract customers. The Market provides an ideal place where an idea can be vetted with the tastebuds of thousands of people with a low barrier to entry. This is true of all the Markets around our area as well. No matter the size, it’s a collection of local fare that is unique to itself and can be a place of experimentation and discovery.

What has been born out of the growth of the Chattanooga Market and the proliferation of other community markets is an acceleration of creators offering edibles and a community of consumers who are evolving into explorers seeking out new tastes and concepts in food. The ability for these new products to access the Market’s patrons quickly and without having to find a traditional bricks and mortar location (although many have those, too) is a clear advantage.

Those advantages translate into more choices, better access for local producers and a significant amount of dollars being spent in the local economy. The Chattanooga Market 2011 performance report cites total sales in three major categories:

1. Farms and Local Food: $797,840

2. Artisans: $848,996

3. Concession: $401,822

Considering that the large majority of the Concession category are local restaurants and mobile food vendors, that means more than $1 million is being generated from these food booths over the season. Impressive, certainly. Also consider what happens outside the Market as well. As these vendors grow their brands, build a loyal following, hone their menus and their products, they are then more stabilized to seek storefronts and operational commercial real estate. Mind you, the Market isn’t exactly a free-for-all “flea market” operation. The vendors who are there have some qualifications to achieve before claiming a booth. That’s a good process for us as consumers.

The bigger picture here is the process of experimentation that is inherent in community public markets. Of course, there are the consistent food vendors who return season after season. But there are also the new ones who are hoping to impress and become a part of your market experience. The first time I sampled Southern Burger Company, Senor Shans Hot Sauce, Link 41 charcuterie and Famous Naters was at the Market. Some new food vendors at the Chattanooga Market for 2012 will include Emmie’s Sweet Things, offering homemade cakes, cookies, and candies, Miss Ginny’s English Toffee and Ello Ello, which offers gluten-free baked goods.

Keeping your eyes and ears open to where opportunities exist to explore local fare will reap rewards and those opportunities continue to expand and grow. Fresh On Fridays happens each week at Miller Plaza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and features a collection of food vendors, artisans and local produce. Earlier in the week, Street Food Tuesday happens at Warehouse Row from 11 p.m. to 2 p.m., yet another opportunity to sample new foodstuffs and enjoy the spring weather while it lasts.

Wherever you find local food and the people who make it, you’ll consistently discover new tastes and new ideas. The city is offering more for all of us, with the work and dedication of farmers, owners, cooks and venue operators working together to bring you better things to eat. And this, my friends, is where our rewards await.

by

April 19, 2012

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