On the Historic Downtown Manchester Square, with a view of the intricate architecture of the county courthouse, Harvest Local Foods resides. This business grew from the work Ellen Fletcher did in organizing a weekly community market. For five years, she managed a farmers’ market with different growers, craft makers, and small businesses selling wares on that courthouse lawn, and it still happens on Saturdays. Ellen knew she wanted to transition to a storefront, and her plans and relations to these vendors have come to fruition as Harvest Local Foods. “I knew I did not want to lose that element, the shopper, the consumer, meeting the farmer and the producer. I still wanted to keep that intact, because it’s really important to me.” – Ellen Fletcher
In early July, Harvest Local Foods hosted a neighborhood event, Taste of Harvest, which did just that. With barbecue smokers flanking the shop and a grill out front, tray upon tray of grilled sweet corn, beef burgers, and lamb greeted the diners. In the center of the store, families and friends ate at long wooden tables, simple and sturdy. These tables usually house vivid seasonal produce and were converted for an evening of dining. Above centerpieces of summer flower arrangements, ornamental wooden wagon wheels and antique ladders were suspended parallel to the tables. Clusters of garlic bulbs were tied with twine to these spokes and rungs. About ten featured vendors, whose products are stocked by the storefront, had various stations, which served tomatoes, sweet tea, beer, wine and more.
Harvest Local Foods sells our full line of products, and the Water Kefir is particularly popular. We served kraut alongside tempeh samples rolled in Italian seasoning. We added a ranch dressing spice mix to Coconut Kefir and served this tangy, savory dip with cucumbers. Water Kefir was available to wash it all down. These ferments complemented the crockpot chicken and rich, reduced stock Tonic Farms offered. St. Isidore Farm provided the flowers and grass fed lamb, grounding and velvety with a hint of game.
Living in Manchester all her life, her parents in their same house, Ellen has seen massive changes in her town. According to her, the square nearly died when Super Walmart came. There was a little life in the 80s and barely any in the 90s. Some businesses lasted, but there weren’t restaurants nor retail nor community events for a long time.
A group talked informally during the event about how younger farmers are coming to Tennessee from California. One woman expressed enthusiasm that more farm products are sold consistently by the younger generation, a needed rural economic shift. She’s also concerned these young adults don’t know the old ways of farming and aren’t learning from oldtimers, that their farming won’t stand the test of time. A man talked about neighborhood-wide problems of dogs killing livestock. They all expressed their astonishment how much raw milk is getting sold.
Meanwhile, a young woman tried our Beet Kvass for the first time, hoping to aid an ailment, drinking it at a table surrounded by family. Two women elders reminisced about what their mothers made, meringues and daily shakes from cream and eggs. Another woman laughed and marveled that everything is delicious when made with raw eggs.
“People need to know where their food comes from and all that goes into it…the hard work that farmers and producers do…They’re the ones that put the real time in, especially the farmers…They deal with things we don’t even know.” – Ellen
Ellen’s passion for the local foods movement spawned into a passion for Manchester, for her community, their square, and bringing life back. Local foods so often means country to major city, farmers and growers depending on customers from Nashville and Chattanooga.
What Harvest Local Foods does is beautiful. It’s an expression of the current rural economy, the centrality of the town square for commerce and communion, and a deep love for the country.
Ellen Fletcher has been working with people like Allison Dotson of High Cotton and Renee Holt of The Mercantile to #savethesquare. They hold regular community events, like Girls Night Out next Thursday, July 19. There will be an Art Walk in late September. Ellen is adamant that it has taken a huge team effort and community-wide support to bring this life back to the square.
We are so impressed with what is happening in Manchester. We dream for this to be possible in our town of Woodbury. We too want to see the farmers, growers, producers, and customers – the country community – all coming together on our square.
Photo Credit- Ellen Fletcher