Starting in April, the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City, Tennessee has hosted a farmers market for patients and the community. The market is so popular that instead of closing for the season, it is now in the main atrium year round.
Every Thursday at 1 p.m., the smell of roasted nuts, banana bread, and popcorn fills the hospital’s main entrance. The growing market is also very popular with VA employees, who are eager to support local and Veteran businesses.
Donald Schaffer, a U.S. Army Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran, started as one of the first market vendors.
“As soon as we heard about it, we were the first applicants,” Schaffer said. “We wanted to give back to Veterans.”
Schaffer and his girlfriend operate Riverview Farm and Gardens, and is a member of Homegrown by Heroes, a program maintained by the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
Since joining Mountain Home’s farmers market, Schaffer has enrolled into VA health care and recommends farming to other Veterans.
“Planting, growing, taking care of your crops keeps you busy,” Schaffer added. “It keeps your mind and body active and healthy.”
The farmers market provides an easy to access place to buy local foods. It also is a place to educate Veterans on VA services.
“Most people go to hospitals because they have to, but we wanted to give Veterans something to look forward to when visiting,” said Bob Collett, Mountain Home’s Veterans Experience Officer. “Farmers Markets, Red Coat Ambassadors at the front door, valet parking, rock gardens, parking shuttles – these are all programs to provide a world class Veterans Experience at Mountain Home.”
During the market, VA provides cooking demonstrations, healthy eating habits, nutritional advice, and other services. Each week, more and more Veterans, their families, caregivers, and community members attend the market to support their local and Veteran farmers.
To find a farmers market close to you, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Directories: National Farmers Market Directory