Off to market we go: What to expect from CLE farmers markets this summer

The widespread opening of farmers markets is the welcome harbinger of summer’s arrival. By early June, around 40 farmers markets are typically operating in the counties of Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake, Geauga, Summit, Portage, Stark, and Medina. This year, market managers are faced with some tough decisions as they navigate the fallout of COVID-19.

Their core mission remains unchanged—to connect people to locally-grown food (a mission that may become exponentially more important in the face of COVID-related disruptions to our food supply).

Yet over time, farmers markets have come to play a larger role in fostering community and providing gathering places for culinary workshops, children’s activities, and entertainment.

Located in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Rocky River Reservation, the Frostville Farmers Market is an apt example of community engagement—having traditionally hosted events like yoga, live music, and pet costume contests. The market takes place on the grounds of the historic Frostville Museum, a collection of restored buildings from the 1800s managed by the Olmsted Historical Society, adding to its appeal as a summertime destination for visitors.

2020 was set to be an especially festive year with the market’s 10th anniversary, but as a new reality sets in, it’s clear that Frostville Farmers Market will need to forge new ways of connecting with and serving its community.

“I believe the essence of the market will itself will change greatly. This truly makes our market family very sad,” says Angela Obbish, market manager. “Our goal is to make available fresh, local vegetables, fruit, meat and other essential items to our customers.”

Slated to reopen on Saturday, May 23, Frostville Farmers Market has announced a new set of guidelines that will ensure necessary protections for customers, staff, and vendors. An early morning slot (9-9:30 a.m.) has been designated as a shopping time for people requiring an extra level of precaution; all customers are asked to wear cloth masks, eliminate reusable bag use, and pre-order with vendors whenever possible.

Additionally, market staff will limit the number of shoppers at a given time and streamline traffic flow with only one entrance and exit. Customers will move through the market in one direction and will be encouraged to move efficiently and quickly.

According to Lauren Ketcham, communications director for Ohio Ecological Food and Farm and Association, this type of approach is what patrons can expect this year when supporting their local farmers markets. After all, the Ohio Farmers Market Network guidelines now include creating one-way traffic flow, removing on-site sampling or ready-to-eat foods, and implementing contactless payment options.

Ketcham advises a shift in our thinking as farmers markets adopt a back-to-basics approach: “Go less for the social atmosphere. Get the essentials. Be patient,” says Ketcham, who is also a farmer and market vendor.

She notes that new policies and processes are being implemented in record time, straining an already understaffed and underfunded farmers market system. Ketcham and other farmers need shoppers to return, undeterred by the changes because small farms have not benefitted by recent stimulus packages or bailouts and they will continue to rely heavily on markets for their seasonal income.

It’s all part of a bigger shift for market operators, vendors, and customers — all of whom will need to change behaviors and adjust expectations for the foreseeable future. Edible Cleveland checked in with a few other local farmers’ markets to see what’s coming down the pike—and how you can support them:

Countryside Food and Farms: Operating two popular markets in Summit County, Countryside CEO Tracy Emrick and her seasoned team are already knee-deep in a new normal, having pivoted quickly to a new model. Within weeks of Governor DeWine’s directives for farm markets, the team launched Countryside Curbside using an online portal called LocalLine.

Countryside shoppers now utilize a preorder system that opens on Tuesday afternoons — an approach that will likely be more prevalent for all farmers markets moving forward as consumers move away from leisurely browsing toward more intentional shopping. Market customers arrive as usual on Saturday mornings but, instead of heading to the gymnasium to greet vendors in person, they will enter a drive-up queue to retrieve their orders from vendors stationed at outdoor tents. The Countryside market at Old Trail School in Bath is open Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1p.m.

Emrick, a passionate advocate for the local farming community and the sustainable use of national park lands, says she’s even more emboldened by the stark revelations of this crisis.

“There has never been a better time for us to rebuild an already fractured and inequitable food system than right now,” says Emrick. “It’s a systemic problem and with every system down, it’s time to get to work—a living wage, fair and equitable food prices for farmers and consumers, and bridges to support businesses until we reach equilibrium!”

Countryside is actively planning for the return of the outdoor markets at Howe Meadow and at Will Christy Park (in the Highland Square neighborhood of Akron) and will announce firm plans and guidelines soon.

 

Coit Road Farm Market: The year-round Coit Road Farm Market has seen its share of ups and downs in its 88-year history. “We have a sense, despite being an old-school operation, of how agile we need to be when challenges arise and our mission becomes more critical,” says market manager Kevin Scheuring.

Scheuring says that their smaller winter crew was able to react and implement the necessary changes without missing a beat as COVID-19 started to bear down on the Cleveland area. They adjusted the vendor layout, added a hand-washing station to supplement the gloves and sanitizer that were already available, and passed out free masks.

“Customers are, for the most part, on board with all the changes and what we’ve asked of them,” says Scheuring. “Right off the bat, we had less traffic, but sales went up. Overall, customer counts have been better than it has been in a while.”

The Coit Road Market is open every Saturday all year long and will restart a Wednesday market on Wednesday, May 27. Hours both days are 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.  They are currently seeking some additional vendors to fill the space of the outdoor pavilion.

North Union Farmers Market: Like Frostville Farmers Market, North Union Farmers Market is set to celebrate a banner year—its 25thanniversary. Emma Visnic is upbeat about the upcoming season for the North Union Farmers Markets, which she operates with her mother Donita Anderson. She’s been appreciative of the cooperation from patrons of the Shaker Square and Crocker Park markets that are currently open Saturdays 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.

“We’re hoping to announce exact opening dates shortly, but so far we have confirmed with Chagrin Falls, Cleveland Clinic, Legacy Village, Pinecrest, and Van Aken District,” shares Visnic.

Undoubtedly, the markets will feel very different and it will require patience on the part of sellers and buyers. Planning ahead, having patience, and approaching the adaptive market experience with an open mind will help navigate the changes.

One thing we can all agree on is that showing our support to Cleveland farmers markets is crucial on a number of levels. “Supporting our local farms and businesses, even if it means a bit of inconvenience, is critical right now, not just for the producers but for all of us as consumers,” says Emrick. “Our food system was fragile before COVID-19. This crisis has rocked it.”

–Lisa Sands

Want to know how to support local farmers’ markets? Check out our updated 2020 listings here.