This is for those people in Ohio. You know who you are. You’re sitting up there right now, making your vacation plans, calculating price of gas versus fuel efficiency versus distance from Cuyahoga Falls or Chillicothe or Ashtabula, and drawing a bead on the Smokies.
Gas prices and foreign policy being what they are, we will be stuck behind even more of you this summer as you crawl through Cades Cove, stopping to ooh and aah at the sight of cows grazing in mountain meadows, and we’ll take your money and grimace at your accents as you go on your way, and welcome you back again next year.
This one is for the Ohioans because I know what it’s like to vacation in the Smokies. I first came to Knoxville in June of 1963, from Kansas City. To get to the mountains from Kansas City you have two choices: the Rockies and the Smokies. Both were 600 miles away, one on a beeline across the empty tabletop that is western Kansas, the other on a more meandering, picturesque, and greener route through the old Midwest.
I preferred the Smokies to the Rockies. There were few interstates in 1963, so trips of this distance seemed interminable. While there were fewer stop lights to the west than to the east, camping in western Kansas (100-degree heat, 40-mile-an-hour wind, ground baked to concrete—one 75,000-square-mile, treeless parking lot with prairie dogs) was not to my taste.
Going east there were more diversions. You had more towns to drive through, more rivers to cross, and all along the way there were delightful produce stands just like Garden Fresh Market on Chapman Highway.
You have to keep in mind that Chapman Highway is not just the road to South Knoxville; it is also the highway to the Smokies. Before the construction of Interstate 40, that meant it also served a larger neighborhood, a national neighborhood of tired tourists at the end of a long day of driving with carfuls of bored kids whining, “Are we there yet?” every 15 minutes. Those people from Ohio, Michigan, Chicago, and Kansas City needed a substitute “there” to get to right away, and places like Garden Fresh Market filled the bill.
Garden Fresh Market still defines a destination less grand perhaps than the Smokies, but larger than just the surrounding neighborhood, and peculiarly interesting in its own right. It welcomes us to the best of our region. The Garden Fresh Market celebrates places like Chuckey, Tenn., home of the Mountain View Bakery, whose delicious creamsicle bars, oatmeal raisin cookies, and other goodies are available from one of the market’s antique display cases.
It celebrates Paris, Tenn., where Clifty Farms makes the cracklins sold at the market; and Sparta, the market’s source for Grandpa Yoders relishes (complete with the label’s biblical admonition, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”); and the state of Georgia, where the market gets its line of blueberry, bing cherry, and other fruit ciders; Maryville, the source of the Vienna Coffee Company’s fine blends; and Frazier Road, Knoxville, where Cruze Dairy Farm produces fresh whole milk.
All these products supplement the market mainstay, produce raised from East Tennessee to California and sold with an eye toward quality and low cost in an open-air warehouse. There’s a concrete floor, blue ceiling with sagging panels and numerous fans, antique plows and food-brand posters, and bushels hanging from the walls.
The daily specials when I visited included fresh greens at $1.09 a pound, pole beans at $1.59 a pound, Florida cantaloupes at $2.19. The store sells bulk birdseed, suet cakes, country ham, and a wide variety of spices hand-packaged in individual containers.
Try to find boiled peanuts in two flavors, Cajun and plain, in Ohio or Kansas City, or at Kroger or Food City in Knoxville, for that matter. They’re available at Garden Fresh Market. m