Of Radishes and Renaissance
“We used to pay the musicians in produce,” chuckled Frank Trew, president of Hip Donelson. “Thankfully now we can pay them for real, and I think we are one of the only local farmers' markets able to do that.”
The Hip Donelson Farmers' Market is where folks get their food and their groove combined. The market hosts dozens of vendors and offers live music each week. Every Friday afternoon, more than 3,000 people of all ages and backgrounds join in the palpable party atmosphere to strut past pints of cherry tomatoes, mountains of green beans, and stacks of handmade soaps, all accompanied by the beating of drums and the stirring of strings. What’s not to like?
While the market delights its guests, its genesis and growth makes it all the more unique. It began in 2009 with the formation of the Hip Donelson Facebook Group. At the time, Trew tells us, the Donelson neighborhood was stagnant; businesses struggled to stay afloat and residents had few opportunities for community involvement.
“Only three of us started the Facebook Group,” recalls Trew, “and we just wanted to find out how we could boost the Donelson Community.” They posted questions, welcomed feedback, and acted on whatever suggestions they could. Before they knew it, Hip Donelson had 200 followers. Today, Hip Donelson is officially a nonprofit organization with more than 19,000 Facebook followers.
Among the many requests posted on the Facebook page, followers clamored most for a farmers' market and a community garden. In March of 2012, Trew and his team set up a meeting to explore both. People interested in the farmers’ market went into one room, those for the community garden into another. Each project got underway that night. The farmers' market launched that August with fifteen vendors. Today, it rotates eighty-three vendors and requires eighteen volunteers to run it each week.
The SNAP Program
So what makes the Donelson market so popular? In addition to the local produce, live music, and accessible location, Hip Donelson, in conjunction with the Community Food Advocates take very seriously their desire to help neighbors in need through increased access to healthy food. In 2013, the two groups teamed up to offer recipients of SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) the opportunity to trade in their SNAP funds for produce. Benefit recipients have only to swipe their EBT card at the front table and receive tokens which they can trade for produce from participating vendors. This experiment has been a tremendous success, amplified by the generosity of Piedmont Gas which, since 2013, matches the SNAP contributions to make it a 2-for-1 exchange for SNAP participants.
“It has made such a big difference for us,” says Lauren, a SNAP recipient who looks forward to coming regularly to the Donelson Farmers' market with her family. Normally, she says, they would never be sure where their food was coming from, and they certainly couldn’t afford organic goods. “This has really helped to supplement our needs.” Since the Double SNAP program began, Hip Donelson has seen a huge boost in attendance and attributes 19% of the market’s weekly revenue to the Double SNAP Program. Not only are there more people coming, affirms Trew, but there is significantly more diversity with people from a wide variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds shopping at the market each week.
Indeed, people-watching at the market is a pleasure. There is a tangible feel of community pride in the air. Last Friday, Seth Davis of Hopewell Gardens, one of the market vendors, confirmed this in more ways than one. He began to tell us how he connects weekly with his customers through an email recipe swap, always encouraging them to learn and try new things. Before sharing anymore about this, however, he suddenly excused himself, and hurried off to join a gathering cluster of strangely clad folks who, without warning, began singing and dancing. Initially startled, the crowds at the market quickly pulled out their phones to record the flash mob. We all were treated to a surprise pop-up performance from Alien, a musical written and composed by local songwriter and playwright, Gregg D. Garner, and performed by Donelson’s own talented community members.
The Donelson Farmers’ Market. It’s hip alright.
Hip Donelson Farmers’ Market
2730 Lebanon Pike Every Friday May-October, 4-7 pm