Local growers luncheon goes virtual

Betsi JamesFood

Food City has named David Mann of Mann Farm as its local grower of the year. The award was announced Wednesday in a virtual gathering of Food City associates and area farmers.

Food City purchases produce from a number of local farms, including those in Grainger, Blount, Hawkins, Unicoi, Jefferson and Sullivan counties in Tennessee; and through Appalachian Harvest co-op for locally grown organics from the growers in Scott County, Virginia.

“We enjoy a great partnership with a variety of local farms,” said Bucky Slagle, director of produce operations for Food City. “And we are proud to be the exclusive retail outlet for a number of them.”

Ryan Ellison, Food City category manager, presents the award to David Mann.

Many items are delivered the same day they are picked. What began over 10 years ago with a handful of area farmers has now grown into a multi-million-dollar operation. Today, Food City purchases over $5 million annually in locally-grown produce.

“Buying local provides our customers with the freshest produce possible, while supporting our local economies,” said Steven C. Smith, Food City president and CEO.

Food City has partnered with Mann Farms of Blacksburg, Virginia, for more than 20 years. David Mann has a passion for growing quality produce and works hard to expand his business. He comes from a long line of farmers, dating back to 1842. Mann purchased his first farm in 1983 and began as a dairy farmer, but later transitioned to tobacco. In 1992, he produced his first crop of tomatoes and later added more crops and began raising cattle.

Mann Farms supplies area Food City locations with cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, peppers, a variety of tomatoes, and half-runner beans, as well as locally grown strawberries. He and his wife, Judy, feel blessed to make their living farming and are especially thankful that Mann’s parents Cecil, 101, and Charlotte, 94, have been able to share in their success, along with their two daughters and five grandchildren. Mann Farms becomes the first two-time award winner, as they were the first local grower to receive the award back in 2009.

Steve Smith reiterated his father’s (Jack Smith) interest in local vegetables and produce, and he declared half-runner beans as his personal favorite.

The best part of the virtual luncheon – the brevity at 11 minutes. The disappointing part – no lunch and the traditional fresh strawberries to go. See you next year!

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Betsi James is special events manager for Food City’s Knoxville and Chattanooga divisions.

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