Cleveland lived under the curse of “maybe next year” for what felt like an unbreakable stretch until the summer of 2016 reversed our fortune. In the midst of an NBA championship and the Republican National Convention descending on Cleveland with its publicity, the city has undergone a massive transformation.
One of the most remarkable additions to the downtown aesthetic is the newly renovated Public Square. Equipped with a splash park, grassy knolls and a new street-food joint called Rebol, the space invites people to eat and play amid the city’s hustle and bustle. Now, there’s one more reason to take a stroll outside Tower City—a weekly farmers market has returned to Public Square bringing the local food movement to the heart of Cleveland.
Emma Anderson, general manager of the North Union Farmers Market, hopes the incorporation of the market into Public Square will attract a melting pot of people to its local fare. From employees searching for a local lunch option to tourists itching to explore the newest Cleveland attraction, the Public Square Farmers Market will serve as a destination for both shopping and spontaneous adventure.
“Every time I’ve been down, there have been a bunch of people relaxing and playing in the water or catching up with friends, which is what it was intended for,” Emma says. “We’re very excited to be a part of that.”
Consumer demand is driving the expansion of the local movement in the urban core. “Eaters in Cleveland are really getting educated on where their food comes from, what kinds of nutrients they want to get from their food, and where the best sources are, which are typically local,” Emma says. Farmers and vendors at the market provide valuable information to curious consumers, whether describing uses for kohlrabi or answering questions about how locally grown foods affect taste and the environment.
The market also offers the opportunity for outlying produce vendors, such as Chris Wojo of Avon-based Wojo’s Produce, to connect with consumers who otherwise don’t frequently visit the inner-ring and outer-ring farmers markets. “Some of our customers don’t have easy accessibility to some of the other farmers markets, so this is a great way for them to access local growers,” he says. “Other people are coming to grab one yellow watermelon, tomato or red pepper for their lunch, but then we get to talking about how to grow your own.”
The roving nature of the downtown residential and professional lunch crowd is beneficial for vendors who offer grab-and-go items, like Cleveland Kraut, which serves up sides of its seven stable flavors—including its venerable Gnar Gnar, Beet Red, Curry and the newly developed Cabbage and Cukes. The latter is a New York-inspired mashup of cabbage and fermented cuke medallions. “People love to grab a small container of kraut and head back to the office,” says co-owner Drew Anderson. “There’s such a high-energy vibe downtown. It reminds me of New York City’s Greenmarkets.”
The market features about 40–45 vendors, with offerings that include staples, such as produce, cheese, jarred items and bakery items, to ancillary goods ranging from local ice cream and popped kettle corn to plants and wooden utensils carved from local felled trees.
“We rotate our vendors, so there’s always something new and interesting at the market,” Emma says.
North Union Farmers Market at Downtown Public Square will operate on Thursdays, 10:30am–1:30pm, August 4–October 20. For more details, visit NorthUnionFarmersMarket.org