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Lake-to-River Co-Op Opens North Side Food Market

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Only months after opening Cultivate: a Co-op Café, 901 Elm St., the Lake-to-River Food Cooperative has opened a small retail grocery market at the same location.

The Lake to River Market debuted in January and features an assortment of fresh vegetables, frozen foods, cereals, coffee, milk, butter, eggs, cheese, snacks and more. Opening a retail location for farmers’ products is a dream that’s taken years to realize, says Melissa Miller, president of the cooperative’s board.

After initially planning to locate produce inside local corner stores, the cooperative regrouped around the idea of “opening a market in one space,” she says.

“The Common Wealth Kitchen Incubator is right next door,” Miller says. “We started the café in here, which also uses the same farmer products, so the little market was the next sensible step.”

The cooperative grew out of the Northside Farmers Market, organized by Common Wealth Inc. in 2003, which led to the birth of a regional food hub. “So people are already thinking about the North Side as a location to buy food,” Miller says.

Today, the Lake-to-River Food Cooperative consists of farmers and food makers from all across northeastern Ohio who want to sell their products locally.

“Many of the farmers bring their products right here to the store,” Miller says. “Sometimes we go out and aggregate at a number of farms throughout the community and that’s how we get the produce here to the store.”

Instead of having to rely solely on the weekly market for fresh produce and other goods, area residents now have daily access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy products.

“A lot of people around here don’t have cars,” says Karen Schubert, a North Side resident and a Cultivate employee. “I love that they can walk somewhere and get food that’s really good for them.”

Miller adds that many Youngstown State University students living on the north side use CVS for many of their grocery needs. She hopes the new market will help students discover healthier options.

“I think this is amazing,” Schubert says. “Here you have fresh produce, locally sourced ingredients – wholegrain, nuts, cereals. We were sampling the dried figs the other day. They were amazing. Laundry soap, toilet paper and things like that, I won’t have to drive so far to get anymore.”

Some of the goods available at the market come from as close as right next-door. Local entrepreneurs working at the kitchen incubator have products available at the market, as does the Cartography Coffee Co., a neighboring business that lacks a storefront. Owner Bob McGovern sells his coffee at the Youngstown Flea, but now has a year-round venue for his product, Miller says.

“We’ve sold a ton of it,” she says. “It’s those kinds of products that we’re trying to create a market for.” For the more inexperienced food producer looking to market a product, “this is a way to test the waters and get some local feedback,” Miller says.

Customers can suggest products as well. Protein powders and smaller boxes of cereals are among the products clients have already requested.

The cooperative also has a virtual presence. Customers can place online orders from 35 different farms at LakeToRiver.org. Orders can be picked up on Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. at the Lake to River Market, Catullo Prime Meats in Boardman from 4:30-5:30 p.m. and the Howland Trustee’s Office at 6:20 p.m. Goods can also be picked up at the market Friday 11 a.m. to 2p.m.

In the future, Miller wants to see the cooperative expand and open other markets on different sides of the city.

“This could be replicated on the South Side or the East Side,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be in a 6,000-square-foot grocery store. Food could come in here and go out to four little stores that really serve their neighborhoods.”

Pictured: Lake-to-River Food Cooperative President Melissa Miller at the new Lake to River Market.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.