At first glance, Rooted in Cleveland, the newest produce stand at the West Side Market, looks a lot like its longer-established neighbors. Apples, lettuce, and potatoes piled high in the display bins. Staffers call out prices, hoping to attract attention from the shoppers filing past.
But Rooted isn’t just another produce vendor. It’s the first stand in several generations to sell only local produce—so local, in fact, that most is grown in Cuyahoga County. Nothing comes from more than 100 miles away.
“That was the whole idea—to sell local food at the West Side Market,” says Joy Harlor, who co-owns the stand with her husband, Tom. The Harlors also own the restaurant Le Petit Triangle in Ohio City. “We’ve shopped there for years, both for ourselves and for the restaurant. It was always funny to go and see no local fruits or vegetables.”
She opened the stand in July in the produce shed’s west wing, near Lorain Avenue. It’s stocked with produce from farmers and distributors Harlor met through Le Petit Triangle. One of the primary suppliers is the Refugee Response farm, located on repurposed vacant land behind the market that has become the Ohio City Farm.
The stand will remain open through the winter, making it a great place to go to keep eating local if your neighborhood farmers market isn’t open year-round. Travis Alley, a Texas native who manages the stand for Harlor, expects the winter product mix to emphasize root vegetables: turnips, beets, radishes, and potatoes. Greenhouse lettuces also may be available.
One of the stand’s challenges is the relatively high price of local food, especially compared to the bargain-basement produce prices shoppers have come to expect from the market. But Alley says that while a few people have “freaked out” over the prices, most are thrilled to see that the stand exists.
So far, business has been steady. Sales have averaged about $3,000 a week, which is more than enough to cover expenses, if not yet turn a substantial profit. Harlor says she’s happy simply to break even for the first year as the stand refines its business model.
“My perception is that there’s a demographic now that is willing to spend more for local food,” Harlor says. “We’ve worked in Ohio City for a long time, and it seems like most of our neighbors fall into that demographic.”
With the popularity of juicing on the rise, the stand’s biggest sellers are beets, carrots, kale, and other greens. Seasonal delicacies, such as corn and peaches, also move quickly.
Harlor seems committed to keeping the stand open for the long haul. “Cleveland promotes local sustainable products in so many ways,” she says. “How could we not offer that at our city’s biggest food market? It just has to be there.”
Want to check in with Rooted in Cleveland before you head out to the West Side Market? You can call 216.583.6415 or email Rooted@RootedInCLE.com.