June 2009 Issue
More than just a source for high-quality, locally produced foods, Ohio’s farmers markets are fostering shoppers’ culinary creativity.
Not long ago, Stevens’ comments might have sounded a little enthusiastic for something as simple as salad ingredients. But our increasingly green consumer conscience has made the farmers market the preferred grocery store of shoppers like her, who seek not only quality and freshness, but also items such as sunchokes and ramps that offer culinary adventures unlike those they’ve had before.
“I used to buy bags of iceberg and romaine at the grocery store before I tasted [the lettuces] at the market,” she says. “I guess once you go fresh, you never go back.”
Enthusiasm like Stevens’ is fueling the growth of farmers markets across the state, says Patti Haden, a program assistant at the Ohio Department of Agriculture who coordinates marketing programs for Ohio’s farmers markets. “Both farm and farmers markets are growing rapidly,” she says, largely due to increased demand, as well as concerns over food safety and quality and economic issues. “Especially right now, I think people feel good about putting their dollars back into their local economy,” she says.
That’s good news for Adam Welly and Jaime Moore of the Wayward Seed Farm in Marysville. The couple has grown a business out of recognizing the potential for lesser-known produce like yellow mangel beets and parmex carrots in their area. “At first, it was chefs telling us ‘I want this or I need that,’” says Moore, explaining that when they started their farm four years ago, few local farmers were growing the specialty produce that appeals to chefs. “At that time, people didn’t have much beyond heirloom tomatoes.”
Welly says word of mouth took Wayward from a “project” to a business in just three months. Now, in addition to its restaurant business, the farm serves two weekly farmers markets and more than 300 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) customers who pick up their weekly supply of fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers market or other drop-off points throughout the growing season. “In June, they’ll get lots of greens, radishes, baby turnips, English peas and purple passion asparagus,” says Moore.
Tom Wiandt, whose family business Killbuck Valley Mushrooms services the Wooster Farmers Market as well as the Shaker Square and Crocker Park markets in the Cleveland area, finds that free samples are also an effective way to get customers interested in his sometimes unusual-looking product. “We’re doing 10 different mushrooms and under each category there are several different cultures. Some of these mushrooms are pink, blue, chartreuse,” he says. “The real gourmets know the difference in texture, taste and the cultivated intricacies. But most people say ‘I’ve never heard of it, but you’re the mushroom man, so I’ll trust you,' ” he laughs. Wiandt says he usually partners with other farmers to create samples on site, giving customers a chance to try before they buy. “I’ll get a handful of shallots from one producer, fresh garlic and greens from another and tell people where it all came from,” he says.
Still, the impact of Ohio’s farmers markets extends beyond selling specialty produce in affluent suburban and semi-rural areas. Last year, the North Union Farmers Market, a nonprofit community organization that operates and promotes six farmers markets (including the Shaker Square and Crocker Park markets) in the Cleveland area, opened its newest market on the urban main campus of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (CCF).
“Fairfax, the neighborhood that the Clinic is in, is considered a ‘food desert,’” explains CCF spokesperson Megan Pruce, referring to a term used to describe areas where healthy food options are sparse. Pruce says she estimates the market services up to 3,000 people each week, a mix of employees, patients and people from the surrounding community.
“I was really excited about it,” says Paula Freeman-Vida, a clinical research nurse at the Clinic, who says she had not been a regular at farmers markets until the CCF’s opened. “I like that things are local, and not being shipped from Peru, and the produce definitely lasts longer,” she says. Freeman-Vida has already had a culinary “aha!” moment. “Last year I bought a cheese made from the milk of [pasture-raised] cows,” she says. “It had a nutty flavor that was out of this world. It was a little bit more expensive, but like fine wine, you’re paying for excellence.”
The extra expense of specialty products is one criticism that markets must deal with. But Ohio’s markets are taking steps to help make healthy food accessible to individuals of all income levels. Last December, the Ohio Department of Agriculture announced the Farmers’ Market Access Project, which offers grants designed to make it easier for markets to accept food assistance benefits.
It’s just another way the state’s farmers markets are helping all Ohioans eat a more balanced — and possibly more creative — diet. And with each new participating farmer, the opportunities for better food choices and consumer education grow. Wayward Seed Farm has plans in the works for “preservation” classes to teach people to freeze, can, pickle and otherwise preserve their food so that they can continue to enjoy locally produced meals once the season is over.
“I know they’re frozen, but the peas from our garden still taste pretty delicious in the winter,” says Welly.
To find a farmers market near you, or for more information about starting one in your community, visit www.ohioproud.org
Sauteed Baby Turnips with Lacinato Kale and Jowl Bacon
Courtesy of - The Wayward Seed Farm
12–16 turnips, golf ball size (Hakurei turnips recommended)
1 pound Lacinato Kale (also known as Black Tuscan kale)
1/4 pound jowl bacon
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano or freshly toasted bread crumbs (optional)
1. Cut bacon into quarter-inch dice. Saute over medium-high heat until golden brown.
2. Remove bacon from the pan, leaving 2–3 tablespoons of bacon renderings in the pan.
3. Cut turnips in half. Saute turnips in the bacon renderings over medium-high heat until they are fork tender, about 8 minutes. Chop kale into 1/2-inch ribbons. Add kale to turnips and continue cooking until the kale is wilted, about 4 minutes. Return bacon to the pan, season withsalt and pepper to taste, toss and serve. For added flavor, top with Parmigiano-Reggiano or freshly toasted bread crumbs.