Since 1876, Columbus has been home to a farmers market. The North Market opened 137 years ago and has provided a space for local farmers to sell their goods ever since. Now, Columbus boasts close to 40 farmers markets held everywhere from the heart of downtown to almost every neighborhood within the city.
No matter where the market, organizers attribute the steady rise in popularity to three factors – consumers want to know where their food is coming from, they want to connect with the farmers who grew it, and also make these fresh, local goods part of a healthier diet.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” says Rick Harrison Wolfe, Executive Director of the North Market. “It’s great when you can talk directly to the farmer who grew what they are selling and picked it fresh that morning.”
Michelle White, Market Manager of the Clintonville Farmers Markets, attributes the rise in markets’ popularity to an increased knowledge by residents of the industrial food system in our country and its often negative connotations.
“Farmers markets are the face of an alternative system,” she says. “They can represent a multitude of things: family farms, farmers who care about the sustainability of the land they’re growing on, eating locally and with integrity, eating a variety of foods at the peak of freshness and supporting the local economy.”
Standards are in place to make sure farmers directly benefit from selling their goods at the market , helping to support the local economy. The North Market, Clintonville Farmers Market and Columbus Winter Farmers Market are all producer-only. Vendors have to grow or produce whatever they sell. This model ensures consumers can meet the people who are directly involved in producing the goods they are purchasing.
Cathy Krist with the Columbus Winter Farmers Market sees other trends bolstering market popularity. “The trend of eating healthier and seasonally, getting back to the basics of eating nutritionally-healthy, wholesome foods has really caught on,” she says.
While the markets are abundant in the summer, there has been a rise in winter options over the last several years. Why not? was the driving question behind creating winter markets. White said eating fresh and eating local shouldn’t stop once the weather turns cold. Krist echoed her sentiments.
“I grew up on the farm and farming doesn’t stop with winter,” she says. “I ask why not a winter market? Just because winter sets in does not mean there is no farming or products to sell.”
The Columbus Winter Farmers Market started in 2008. Krist and other farmers were still producing perishable goods in to the fall and winter and needed an outlet to make their products available to customers. Clintonville began their winter market option last year.
“Hoop houses, greenhouses and other methods of season extension allow our farmers to keep growing produce even during the coldest months. As a market, we want to be there to provide an outlet for those goods,” White said.
While fresh, local produce may be the main attraction at farmers markets, the product offerings expand well beyond just seasonal fruits and veggies.
Clintonville sees vendors selling flowers, herbs, honey, maple syrup products, jams, dips and salsas, cheese, bread, baked goods, coffee, eggs and a host of proteins including pasture-raised goat, beef, chicken, bison and pork. They also target specialty goods like gluten-free products. The new winter market sees many similar products with more seasonal produce like microgreens, mushrooms, kale, collards and lettuce.
At the North Market, shoppers can visit the 30+ year-round indoor vendors, or shop the seasonal vendors outside. Wolfe says they see herbs, greens and produce early in spring, with produce becoming most abundant in late July and August. They round out the year with holiday wreaths and trees. Vendors also sell meat and cheeses. The market has seen an upswing in producers that specialize in coffee, home-baked goods, salsas and fruit and veggie juices.
Seasonal produce available at the Columbus Winter Farmers Market includes sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, winter squash, garlic, spinach and other greens, onions and broccoli. They also offer other staples such as eggs, beef, turkey and pork. The fall and winter months are also a popular time for apples, apple cider and maple syrup products.
Between the rise in popularity and the variety of available products, Board member Therese Poston from the Clintonville Farmers Market sums up the new market experience, “People are shopping for groceries for the week as opposed to casual shopping.”
Practicality creates a need for a market almost every day of the week and every month of the year. Farmers want to be able to present their goods at the peak of freshness, and in-season, produce is ripening everyday. While some markets and wrapping up their seasons, patrons can still enjoy the Clintonville Farmers Market and North Market, and look forward to the Columbus Winter Farmers Market.
Clintonville runs three markets. Summer Saturdays, a 31-week cycle from April to November, Summer Wednesdays open from June to mid-August, and Winter Saturdays running from January to mid-April. Since it started eight years ago, former Market Manger Laura Zimmerman says there are now about five times the number of people visiting the market.
The season at North Market runs from April to December. Overall, they see the most activity on Saturdays with over one million annual visitors. Wolfe says the rise in markets in other locations has impacted their numbers, but attending the North Market Farmers Market has the added attraction of year-round indoor restaurants and vendors, and of being the original farmers market in Columbus.
The Columbus Winter Farmers Market starts in November and will run on the first and third Saturdays through March. The market moved to a new location last year and Krist is eager to make customers aware of the new space. Each move has meant an adjustment period for the market, but she sees a good fit with the Charity Newsies building in Clintonville.
Farmers markets are the face of many trends – eating and supporting local, making more responsible choices about where food is produced – and Columbus residents are showing their support by creating and sustaining a market in each part of town.
For more information on the North Market, visit northmarket.com.
For more information on the Clintonville Farmers Market, visit clintonvillefarmersmarket.org.
For more information on the Columbus Winter Farmers Market, visit columbuswinterfarmersmarket.com.
To find other markets around Columbus, visit Columbus Underground.