Last September, Melanie Maples-Harris bought the Sevier Home grocery store her uncle Clyde Maples ran in 1955. “I will be opening it as FarmSouth in June 2023,” she said of the store at 1603 Tipton Station Road, just off John Sevier Highway. “It is kind of personal and I have always been interested in the building. As a retired agricultural teacher, I’ve always had a passion for growing plants, and I want to showcase local growers and artisans.”
Harris was born in 1963, the year her uncle died, but learned that at that time there were four small grocery stores in that community. “This one was owned by the Hagaman family and the last direct descendant, Clara Hagaman, passed away last fall and their farm and this store were for sale,” she explained. “My father, Ed Maples, and his siblings grew up in this community (about 1/4 mile down the road), and he attended the old Sevier Home School, which has since been renovated into a private residence.”
Over the years, the building was rented by Watershed Furnishings and more recently a heat and air company that will be relocating to the lower level. “People have told me they used to go there to buy ice cream in the 1960s,” said Harris. “Upstairs is one big room, right at 2,500 square feet.”
Harris felt that while Sevier Avenue was booming, the more southern part of the county lacked a community gathering place to sell locally made goods.
“I think this is a good opportunity to get people together and provide a service for the talented people who live among us,” she said. “My vision is to offer educational workshops, camps, for both adults and children. I want to instill a thirst for knowledge, share good habits, teach people where their food comes from, not waste food and use whole food as an alternative to fast food.”
Other workshop topics may cover making soaps and quilting. Harris taught agriculture for 20 years and served as a high school assistant principal and CTE (Career and Technical Education) director for 11 years.
Harris may be officially retired, but she is currently a member of the Knox County Agriculture Committee and the TEAM (Teaming to Educate for Agricultural Mastery) Committee in Knox County.
Vendor applications are already available @ farmsouthknox on Facebook. “The main things we are looking for are fresh vegetables, meat or dairy, farm byproducts such as soaps, honey, and candles, fresh plants and herbs,” said Harris. “Anything that revolves around agriculture, and we are focusing on things that are handmade.”
The plan is to offer vendors a section to showcase their products, but no individual booths. “They will not have to run their own area, we will do that,” said Harris. “On the vendor applications they will have an option to pay a monthly fee or a commission and they can decide what works better for them.”
Harris wants to stay true to her vision of showcasing the community, while remaining open to what people say they want to use the space for.
“We are having to do renovations and I am working on a grant, so there are some things we are doing now and some we won’t do until we hear about the grant money,” said Harris.
“In January we are going to start showcasing our different vendors every week to try and get people involved.”
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: 'FarmSouth' in South Knoxville to showcase local food growers artisans