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Feel–Good Storytelling: From USTs to Fresh Produce

By Alan Hayes , Kelsey Davis

Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough, is nestled in the northeast corner of Tennessee. Founded in 1779, the small, vibrant town with a population of around 6,000 is commonly known for its National Storytelling Festival.

Located in the historic downtown area, a property which was once an Exxon gasoline and service station from the 1930's until 2003 became an unwanted property that was eventually placed on the real–estate market.

This resulted in three gasoline underground storage tanks (USTs) to be deemed temporarily out of service. Due to the prime location, town leaders were interested in purchasing the unused parcel and developing the site located at 101 Boone Street into an epicenter for downtown activity and commerce.

The owner, Tri–Cities Petroleum Inc., was interested in selling the property. The problem, however, was that they wanted to sell the property and the tanks all together, resulting in the buyer purchasing not only the land, but the three out of service gasoline tanks and any liabilities that may come with them.

Coming to a common decision took some time, as the town of Jonesborough was not interested in purchasing the USTs or any potential associated difficulties that could result from the underground storage tanks leaking. The cost of investigating and cleaning up even small leaks can pose financial problems for those responsible.

Through careful planning and education on the process of such a purchase, Jonesborough purchased the property in 2011 and registered the USTs for the purpose of permanent closure. Permanent closure of registered USTs in Tennessee requires completing a Permanent Closure Application and submitting it to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's (TDEC) Division of Underground Storage Tanks for approval.

Once the application is approved, detailed guidelines are available for conducting a closure assessment of soil and/or groundwater samples. In March 2013, the tanks were subsequently closed by the town with assistance and oversight by the personnel from TDEC's Johnson City Environmental Field Office and Nashville Central Office Division of Underground Storage Tanks.

Fortunately, the results of all soil samples collected were closely reviewed by the Division of Underground Storage Tanks and found to be below the most stringent regulatory cleanup levels. Following the UST closure, and after much effort and fundraising, the former Exxon gas station was transformed into a year–round retail store. Boone Street Market opened for business in October 2014 and began selling locally produced foods and products.

All food sold in the store is guaranteed to be produced within 100 miles of Jonesborough, ensuring the best local foods are made available to shoppers while simultaneously supporting local economies.

They also provide a weekly newsletter informing shoppers of the wide variety of goods offered including not only fruits and vegetables, but locally made dairy products, free range eggs, gluten free and artisan breads, and antibiotic and hormone free meats.

Boone Street Market is part of Jonesborough Locally Grown, the nonprofit that leases and operates the Jonesborough Farmers Market. Jonesborough Locally Grown provides a community network for both growers and buyers, and is a vital part of the town's local food movement.

When items are purchased locally, fossil fuels and packaging materials are eliminated or greatly reduced making it more sustainable. The Jonesborough Locally Grown program helps growers by providing the resources for community education related to sustainable agriculture. This organization is dedicated to supporting local farmers, building the community, and increasing access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food.

Just like the Jonesborough Farmers Market, Boone Street Market is a community–organized, community–run operation. Volunteers help supplement the work alongside staff members. Other contributors include community and vendor volunteers that serve on the board, help with set–up and take down, staff the market information booth, and help in the store and kitchen as cashiers and delivery drivers.

Operating costs are sustained by sales fees assessed to the growers from consignment of their goods, and through membership support and various fundraisers, including monthly dinners and Boone Street Market kitchen classes. The various cooking classes offered to help sustain the business include Introduction to Fermentation, Herbs and Tonics, and 30 Minute Mozzarella and Pizza Making. Residents can participate in these courses for a reasonable fee.

Hosts 100 Mile Meals

The store hosts monthly "100 Mile" meals that raise critical operating funds that benefit both the Farmers Market and Boone Street Market. These elegant 5–course, farm–to–table meals are sourced from local ingredients and are staffed by volunteers. These dinners are a showcase and celebration of locally–sourced food that raise awareness about the importance of eating locally, while also allowing community members who share a desire to support local food to come together.

Boone Street Market is operated for the benefit of not only its customers, but the suppliers as well. Even though producers who participate in the Boone Street Market are assessed consignment fees, the vendors still keep 80% of their sales.

This is a dramatic difference compared to the average producers in the United States which retain 15.8 cents of every food dollar spent by consumers. An estimated $410,000 worth of goods has been sold annually from both the Saturday Farmers Market and the Boone Street Market.

Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe attested to the success of the market by saying, "This project is a great example of conservation and re–use on many levels. Not only did we take a building that was something of an eyesore in town and put it to productive use, we also converted it to an option with a very sustainable nature.

"Local farmers within a 100–mile radius will be able to sell their locally produced goods at this facility from now on. Residents have better access to healthy food options. This project has been a tremendous success for our residents and our community."

In addition to the Town of Jonesborough and its partner, Jonesborough Locally Grown, major supporters of the effort include the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the Washington County Commission, numerous individuals, civic groups, and banks.

Lots of hard work and many volunteer hours made this an outstanding market in a very short time. The property has been transformed from an abandoned property with USTs to a great place to find locally grown produce and support local farms and businesses.

Stan Boyd, Director of the Division of Underground Storage Tanks says, "The Tennessee UST program is glad to see a former petroleum site being reused as a productive new business with an exciting draw to the community. Many times these former sites have been vacant for years and are unproductive. Now they are providing local jobs and income to the tax bases of their home cities and counties. By returning the property to usefulness, the new business brings opportunities for employment beyond the facility itself through local farms and other supplying merchants. We are proud of being involved in the revitalization of this property and will work to see others happen in the future."

Alan Hayes is a licensed Professional Geologist in Tennessee and works as the environmental manager for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation – Division of Underground Storage Tanks in the Johnson City Field Office. Kelsey Davis is an Environmental Specialist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Office of Sustainable Practices where her primary focus is on recycling and reducing waste.

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