New Vendors, Programs Draw Patrons to Farmers Market

WARREN, Ohio – Even while the tents were still being set, people started lining up at the first Warren Farmers Market of the summer. As early as 15 minutes before the official start time, customers stood in line for the first batch of locally grown fruits and vegetables or fresh-baked food.

Of the eight booths at the weekly market, perhaps the most popular was a first-timer: Matwich’s Berry Farm from Leavittsburg. Co-owners Susan and Ray Matwich had picked 51 quarts of strawberries Tuesday morning and were sold out within 20 minutes of business.

“I was hoping we’d sell out. I told [my husband] that I wasn’t bringing any of this home. But it was a bit more than we thought,” Susan Matwich said. “It was exciting. I tried bonding with everyone a bit and seeing if they had questions but it was all moving a little too fast for that. Hopefully, as we’re here more often we’ll get to know people and they’ll get to know us.”

Even with more than 100 people turning out during the first hour of the market, all vendors took the time to talk to as many customers as they could, answering questions about their products and farming. Things like that, many said, are an important factor in the success of farmers markets.

“It builds a sense of community here. Everywhere you look, there’s people talking. Farmers can share info about how they grow their products or how to prepare them. It’s a great thing for the community,” said Melissa Miller, marketing manager for the Lake to River Food Cooperative in Youngstown.

What started three years ago with a few vendors gathering monthly, the Warren Farmers Market has grown to a downtown attraction. Since last year’s market wrapped up, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, which organizes the market, has made strides in advertising the market and growing interest.

“The USDA’s farmers market promotion program has helped us put some billboards and do some marketing to attract more vendors and customers,” according to Sheila Calko, the manager of TNP’s Garden Resources of Warren program. “It’s our second year as a weekly market, too, and people are starting to get the word out.”

One of the billboards around the city features Bruce Vance, from Field Fresh Farm in Jefferson, in one of his fields. At Tuesday’s market, Vance was selling maple syrup, honey, popcorn and tomato plants.

“In most cases, people are happy to have something local and fresh at reasonable prices. All in all, people are pretty pleased about this market,” he said. “

Among the market’s goals, Calko said, is to educate people about fresh food. Many areas in Warren, including the neighborhoods just north of Courthouse Square, where the market is held, are considered food deserts, sections of the city without ready access to fresh and nutritious food.

“We need to educate them about what local foods are. People have different expectations because we’re used to having most things available year round at the store,” she said. “But that’s being shipped thousands of miles and it doesn’t support our local farmers. This market is one way to do that.”

At the Field Fresh Farm booth, Vance was selling patio tomato plants to help those looking to begin growing their own vegetables.

“The patio tomatoes I’ve got here will grow in a small area. So if someone has a little patio or apartment, they can grow their own stuff all summer long,” he explained.

Also new to the farmers market this year are a special offer for those in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Snap – and Electronic Benefit Transfer – EBT – programs. Through a grant, TNP can double what program users spend.

“If someone comes to spend $10, we can give them $20. We want to make sure people in the community have access to healthy food,” Calko said. “We have community gardens, but not everyone can grow food or grow the variety [that farmers can], so we put this together.”

The community atmosphere that has sprung up around the weekly farmers market – with people walking through after their workday, just shopping or meeting up with friends – was “very intentional,” Calko said.

“I love the feel that good farmers markets have. People will come to see their friends. The way our lives are so busy, we don’t get as many chances to do that any more. We try to invite the community out here, with things like yoga or family-friendly music [starting in July],” she continued. “The community has come out to support this and I hope that people continue to see the importance of local vendors and eating healthy.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.