Donita Anderson

Science and art at the market and in the kitchen

What does a woman who possesses both a biology degree and formal chef training do for a living? If you’re Donita Anderson, you start out as a researcher in a lab. Then you spend a few years working as a chef and sommelier at a fine restaurant. Then you finally pull out all the stops and create an award-winning nonprofit organization that revolves around local farms, nutritious foods and seasonal stands that will go on to eventually attract over half a million people annually. Oh, and you proudly call it the North Union Farmers Market.

Seventeen years after its conception, with Donita still at the helm as its executive director, the North Union Farmers Market continues to grow and enjoy ongoing popularity. It now operates one indoor winter market plus eight outdoor seasonal markets throughout Cleveland and the surrounding areas, featuring 90 farmers and 100+ artisans and food purveyors.

“Both my grandmothers were fine chefs,” Donita explains. “One was Asian, one Scottish. That’s where my love of food first began.” Today, when not working, she likes to entertain by throwing impromptu dinners for family and friends, and improvising with great products from—where else?—local markets.

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How did you come up with the name “North Union Farmers Market”?

North Union Farmers Market is named after the agricultural community of Shakers who lived here over 150 years ago.

What is your most gratifying experience with the market?

Seeing farmers grow their small farm businesses and sustain their way of life is absolutely wonderful.

What’s the one thing you would want all shoppers at your market to know?

I want them to know that North Union is a certified-producer-only market. They are buying directly from the grower!

Of all the places you’ve traveled, where did you have the best meal? Describe it for us.

This one is hard; there are so many memories. Recently I was flown to Hawaii to look at markets. Upon landing, I had a tempura that was made of the freshest ahi fish partnered with a spicy poi sauce on crispy kale. Yummm. Then again, I clearly remember waiting in line on a rainy Friday morning for a freshly baked pain au raisin at On the Rise bakery in Cleveland Heights, which beats any patisserie I have ever visited in Paris.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?

Very few people outside of Burma have eaten this dish: bahl chong. My Burmese grandmother taught me the alchemy of combining dried shrimp peppers, rice vinegar, sautéed garlic and shallots with ngapi [a pungent paste of fermented fish or shrimp] to create this spicy dish.

What did you have for dinner last night?

I was at Crop Bistro and had their cherry bombs (plum tomatoes stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in a wonton, deep fried and served on creamed corn with special sauces)! Next was braised

pork belly with arugula, heirloom tomatoes and frites (a takeoff on a BLT). But what was most amazing was what we called the “Pink Pleasure” cocktail chef/owner Steve Schimoler invented. Over-the-top delicious.

What’s your favorite restaurant and what do you usually order there?

There are so many chefs in Cleveland doing great things with food. I particularly enjoy going to La Campagna, Pacific East, Crop, the Flying Fig and Li Wah (for their dim sum). Another constant is Cortez Fish Market off Longboat Key in Florida.

What would we be surprised (or even shocked) to find in your refrigerator?

Ngapi, a shrimp/fish paste that is buried for 12 years. The true fermented food. Most normal people would not keep it in their fridge as it does have a distinct smell.

What’s one ingredient you can’t live without?

Sea of Cortez salt.

What three items are constant staples in your pantry?

Kokuho Rose sushi rice, sriracha and sesame oil.

What’s your biggest guilty food pleasure?

It changes, but whatever it is, I don’t limit myself to simply a taste. I devour it! Like the first time I had Jeni’s Maker’s Mark pecan ice cream. It was so hard to share that pint.

Contact North Union Farmers Market for details about weekly markets, vendors and special events at northunionfarmersmarket.org or 216.751.7656.