The happy hour interval on Tuesdays in Tremont’s Lincoln Park assumes its own spirited mood, when motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians descend on the green space between 4–7pm with empty canvas bags that will eventually become stuffed with provisions from the Tremont Farmers Market’s 35 vendors. Thanks to the passage of House Bill 178 in 2016, shoppers are now able to sample a variety of wines from M Cellars and The Lakehouse Inn & Winery, which provides another way for the community to support their local producers.
“Consumers will be able to sample wine and buy a few bottles in the same venue they are purchasing meal ingredients to put wonderful, totally locally sourced meals together for the week,” says Jim Votava, market manager.
The onset of summer means farmers markets throughout Northeast Ohio are an undulating flow of micro-local commerce, with established and new vendors feeding the community’s appetite for homespun goods and locally grown food.
Haymaker Farmers Market, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has gone from a half-dozen pickups selling produce from truck beds to a 50-vendor year-round market. “We have things you can’t get from grocery stores, like varieties of mushrooms from Avant Gardens Farm & Mushroomery, which we added last year, or Tierra Verde Farms, which is a new vendor who’s selling pasture-raised and grass-fed meat from animals raised in a symbiotic way with nature,” says J. Andrew Rome, market manager.
North Union Farmers Market added 36 new vendors this year, bringing the total number of vendors to 297 spread across its nine-market system, which is a 10% increase.
Some markets are ramping up education efforts to combat a reduction in sales and attendance, which is part of an overall national trend among farmers markets, local operators say.
“There are a couple reasons for this trend,” says Erin Molnar, market manager of Countryside Conservancy, which operates markets in Peninsula and Akron. “The ‘Buy Local’ slogan is ubiquitous now. You see it now at grocery stores. We’ve also seen a drop-off from some of our early adopters, who are getting older and don’t have as much time to shop. Many of our younger generations visit, but we want more of them making the farmers market part of their weekly routine.”
To make that happen, Countryside Conservancy’s producer-only markets are repositioning their marketing strategy by encouraging shoppers to buy directly from producers. They also are developing more creative and approachable cooking demonstrations. “A lot of people from the younger generations don’t have basic cooking skills,” Molnar says.
Some market operators point toward Cuyahoga County’s 44% drop in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemption in 2016 as a contributing factor in softer sales among some markets, says Donita Anderson, executive director of North Union Farmers Market. “We’ve been very proactive in helping get the word out about the program,” she says.
Produce Perks and Produce Prescription program redemption helped buoy the decrease in SNAP sales in Cuyahoga County (which has been increasing incrementally over the last few years, and encountered a record redemption year in 2015). The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition’s Produce Perks program gives a dollar-for-dollar match to Ohio Direction Card users, while Produce Prescription serves low-income new or expectant moms, says Amanda Osborne, community development educator for Ohio State University Extension Cuyahoga County.
“The expansion of food access programs benefits farmers markets and those individuals who live in food deserts,” Osborne says. “These programs are so important to community health.”
Please support local farmers, ranchers, and food businesses by shopping regularly at your local farmers market. A strong local food network is the backbone of a healthy community. Farmers who sell directly to consumers keep 80–90 cents of each dollar spent, versus only 9 cents of each dollar when sold through conventional means. Please refer to our list of farmers markets throughout Northeast Ohio.