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Local farmers markets open for season

This local honey vendor was one of several vendors to attend last year’s Erwin Community Market. Both the Erwin market and the Town of Unicoi’s have resumed operations. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The warm weather and longer evenings can mean only one thing – it is time once again for Erwin Community Market and the Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale.

Both markets were scheduled to officially open this week.

“The Erwin Community Market starts on July 7 and runs every Tuesday from 5-8 p.m., during July through September,” Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice said. “We average between 10-15 vendors per week and have about 200-300 customers per night.”

According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton, the Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale will be held at a new location this year.

“The Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale will open July 7 in its new home under the Buffalo Pavilion at the Unicoi Visitor Center,” Shelton said. “The market was originally scheduled to open in June, but was delayed because of a spike in COVID-19 cases within the county during that time. The market will be held every Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Tourist Information Center at exit 32 (off I-26), as long as coronavirus cases remain at a minimal level.”

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch acknowledged that new COVID-19 regulations will be in place to protect the public. COVID prevention measures include required masks, hand sanitizer at entrance, one-way traffic, disposable food-gloves for testing ripeness of produce, additional space between vendors and customers and request for exact or small change.

“We’re glad we can finally open the market safely,” Lynch said. “But we will continue to monitor the COVID crisis and adjust our plans as needed throughout the season.”

Visitors to the Erwin Community Market can also expect changes due to COVID-19.

“These vendors have been so affected by the pandemic,” Rice said. “Most festivals have been cancelled and they are hurting economically. This would be a great outlet for them. Customers are encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing and frequent hand washing. Hand sanitizer will be on site. Tents will be spread further apart this year.”

According to Rice, the Erwin Community Market has expanded to incorporate more arts and crafts, as well as health programs.

“We are reaching out to anyone who grows fresh produce, baked items, or even handmade crafts,” Rice said. “Our market accepts SNAP benefits and also participates in the Double Up Food Bucks Program. A SNAP recipient can actually double their benefits. For example, a customer can run their SNAP card for $5 and get $10 in return.

Also, the health department will be on site with activity kits for children to take home and will also giving kids free $5 market vouchers to be spent on fruits and veggies.

Just like Erwin Community Market, the Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale will include fresh fruits, vegetables, and baked goods, as well as local craft vendors, and yard sale bargains.

“Picnic tables surrounding the complex will be spaced well more than six feet apart so visitors can browse the booths, grab some fresh food then enjoy lunch with a view,” Shelton said. “The community has been eager for the market to open since many participants depend on this weekly event to supplement their income or small business and we’re happy we can now give them that opportunity again.”

Shelton acknowledged that vendor pricing in Unicoi is based on categories.

“Farm products, prepared food and handmade crafts require a $5 annual market fee,” Shelton said. “Yard sale booths and demonstration spaces are free, but an application must be submitted. Only one application per season is required and vendors may then call each week to reserve their space by phone. Booth spaces are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Tents, tables, chairs and other equipment will not be provided so please make necessary arrangements prior to the market opening.”

For more information or to become a vendor for the Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale, please email [email protected] or contact Patricia Bennett at 735-0517. Vendor applications are available online at unicoitn.net under the event tab. The Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale is held at the Tourist Information Center located at 106 Unicoi Village Place, in Unicoi.

For more information on the Erwin Community Market, please follow the Town of Erwin and RISE Erwin on Facebook.