Since 1999, Main Street Delaware’s farmers market has been a Saturday downtown destination.
The market will begin its 2016 season Saturday, May 21, in its usual place on Sandusky Street.
“The market has been around for 16 years and every year it gets a little bigger,” said Frances Jo Hamilton, executive director of Main Street Delaware.
The market tends to draw a large number of people to downtown on Saturdays. “The store owners will adjust their hours around when we have the farmers market,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton has noticed people come for more than just the farmers market but also to shop at the stores and eat in the restaurants. “People are coming for the full downtown experience,” she said.
Saturday’s farmers markets run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the downtown.
The market also operates on Wednesday afternoons — from 3 to 6 p.m., starting June 1 — but the experience is different. People are in hurry to get home in the evening. “Wednesday afternoon people are grabbing what they want to take home for dinner,” Hamilton said.
The market and SourcePoint have teamed up in a voucher promotion program for senior citizens. “SourcePoint gives senior shoppers $60 in vouchers to spend at the market,” Hamilton said. “Seventy percent of the vouchers given out are collected by Main Street Delaware’s farmers market.”
Hamilton said the seniors are allowed to spend the vouchers at the farmers market on edible items or fruit-bearing trees and plants which gives them a sustainable food source. “It’s putting local money into local seniors’ hands who spend the money locally,” Hamilton said.
Farmers markets are now networking and sharing ideas on promotions and a wide variety management tools.
The Farmers Market Management Network has enabled farmers markets in Ohio to become more successful and cost-effective. The network is linking farmers, farmers markets, agricultural agencies and community resources.
The network gives farmers markets access to education on food safety, grants and help in identifying best business practices. “There are more farmers markets in Ohio than have been in the last couple of decades,” said Christie Welch, Ohio State University farmers market specialist. “Through education and advocacy, markets gain clarification of what they can and can’t sell at a market.”
Farmers markets are defined as a location where farmers, producers and vendors market products directly to consumers. Markets must be registered with Ohio Department of Agriculture to qualify for the Farmers Market Management Network.
Adam Schroeder, vice president of the network’s board of directors, has been operating the Pearl Market in downtown Columbus since 2005. “People are exposed to the market at lunch or even when they cut through on the way to a meeting,” he said. “I’ve seen a definite increase in foot traffic.”
“Big cities see more activity because rural areas find it hard to attract customers,” Welch said.
Downtown markets attract the lunch crowd but people don’t linger and look around because they have to get back to work. Neighborhood markets attract families who take advantage of the social time with neighbors, according to Schroeder.
Farmers Market Management Network holds an annual conference the second week of March. Members of agricultural organizations are invited to speak on topics ranging from best market practices to farming. “We serve all types of markets, rural and urban,” said Mayda Sanchez-Shingler, a member of the network’s board of directors.
“Regional boards meet monthly but once the market season starts, then the face-to-face meeting becomes a monthly conference call,” Sanchez-Shingler said.
In the Columbus area, possibly 20 markets operate during the season. “You can go to a market every day of the week,” Schroeder said. “I think the movement of ‘buy local’ and ‘eat local’ is here to stay.”
Markets participate in local events to help attract customers. “Cleveland has a garlic festival every year,” Schroeder said. “Markets are bringing communities together.”
“Capturing an audience is tough (because) the perception is farmers markets are expensive,” Schroeder explained. However, markets are now able to accept the EBT Card — electronic distribution food assistance — and the Veggie SNAP card — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — he said.
Markets usually operate from May to October. “Early markets don’t have the same breadth as markets in the latter part of the year,” Sanchez-Shingler said. “Early markets offer maple syrup, jellies and jams from the previous year’s crops, along with baked goods. Then in July and August, green beans, tomatoes, corn and other in-season vegetables are sold.”
Through the network, there is an exchange of ideas and knowledge. But the network didn’t happen overnight. “At first a lot of the Columbus markets wouldn’t talk to each other,” Schroeder said. “They were worried about poaching vendors from each other.”
Business has been good for farmers markets but they are facing the challenge of supply and demand. “There has become a constant cycle of of trying to get farmers into markets,” Schroeder said. “There are fewer farmers and farmland available.”
Farming takes space, and developers are taking that space away from farming. “I think it’s a slap in the face when developers give their development a farm name like Berry Farms,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder is seeing some changes in the marketplace. Some urban farmers are finding their way to the markets. “They just don’t know how to go to market,” Schroeder said. “There are also some things being done with hydroponics but it’s going to take an infusion of cash before it takes off.”
Schroeder said he gets farmers and vendors by word of mouth. “If I can keep my farmers happy, then I keep my farmers,” Schroeder said.
“I think it is amazing to see the look on someone’s face when they taste a tomato grown near them,” Schroeder said.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.