ON WEDNESDAY AFTERNOONS, FROM May through October, a growing number of East Nashvillians grab empty totes and make their way to Shelby Park. Their destination lies by the Cumberland River where more than 40 Tennessee farmers and vendors surround a sundrenched grassy knoll. In its infancy, the East Nashville Farmers Market was a humble, grass roots gathering, but has grown to become the neighborhood destination for local food, culture, and East Side-style community.
It began in 2004, when Delvin Delvin, Jr. of Delvin Farms delivered boxes of vegetables to East Nashville subscribers every Wednesday at the Turnip Truck. It was the beginning of the 5 Points revitalization, a time when Shelby Park was underutilized, and the need to cultivate community was strong. Delvin had a vision to create a venue where customers could connect with local farmers, while simultaneously connecting with their neighbors. So in 2007, with five vendors and humble beginnings, Delvin launched the first East Nashville farmers market in the parking lot of the Turnip Truck.
“We were the only community market at the time,” Delvin recalls. “It was the downtown market, Franklin Farmers Market, and us.” And as one of the two producer-only markets in the area, demand grew and popularity spread fast. New regional farmers began to knock on Delvin’s door, and within two years the market outgrew its original location and transplanted to the larger parking lot of the Free Will Baptist Church on 10th Street.
Gradually, Delvin added new vendors and diversified selections. Organic strawberries and blueberries — as well as food vendors — lured local residents from their homes. Adults devoured the fresh foods while they shopped; children enjoyed the activities, berries, and ice cream. With the addition of staples such as locally baked breads, farm eggs, and cheeses, the market garnered such a dedicated weekly following that Delvin began to search the neighborhood for a more appropriate home.
Today, Shelby Park is a vibrant, multi-use recreational area that now hosts the market every Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. “The park is our permanent home, and we couldn’t be more thrilled,” says Delvin, who is most excited to be rid of asphalt and vending in the grass. Shoppers enjoy the many park amenities, such as playgrounds, hiking trails, and newly paved greenways, and arrive on bikes and with baby-strollers to spread out blankets and enjoy the lawn. Come ready to enjoy fare from local food trucks or simply relax with a loved one to bluegrass and old-timey bands.
This month, the market is beginning its ninth year, and the flavors of Tennessee are more complex than ever. Expect to find seasonal favorites this spring such as fresh strawberries, asparagus and kale, but keep a keen eye out for specialty items such as fresh pastas, kombuchas, Greek pastries — even native and exotic mushrooms.
There is no predicting how much this market will grow now that it has found a warm, sunny spot to establish its roots, but it will be a welcome respite from the daily grind to spread out a blanket, relax, and watch it flower and fruit during the years ahead.