Countryside Winter Farmers Market: Where Recreation Meets Agriculture

      Posted On: December 20, 2017

Ohio’s Countryside Conservancy’s main season and winter markets are situated in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where agricultural activities date back over 2,000 years. The Countryside Initiative Program, established in 1999, enables farmers to lease within the park to reinvigorate and continue the lands’ rich agricultural history. Several of these farms and farms within 75 miles participate as Countryside vendors.

The growth of the Winter Market over the years is a great story, because it is actually the story of the growth and development of area growers,” says Erin Molnar, Countryside Market Manager. “We could not have frequent, off-season markets without the expansion of our growers into season-extension; they could not have expanded this portion of their business with the same success without a viable option to sell their produce during this time of the year.” 

The effects of market, of course, extend to the entire community. “Beyond the impacts that the market has on vendors, through income, and on customers, through providing them with local, direct-from-producer foods, the communal and positive atmosphere of the markets provides much needed connection and spirit in the gloomy winters of northeastern Ohio.”

Tune in on Instagram  to enjoy Countryside’s Winter Farmers Market holiday cheer and good eats!

Farmers Market Coalition: Give us a little bit of history about your market.

Erin Molnar: Countryside Winter Farmers’ Market is an off-shoot of Countryside’s main season market in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It has grown from a single holiday market in November of 2006 to an almost weekly market throughout the “off-season” of November through April. Countryside has a full-time, year-round farmers’ market manager, but volunteer support is essential as well. All of Countryside’s markets are producer-only and all of the vendors come from within 75 miles of the markets. At the winter market, we have between 40 and 55 vendors.

One of our favorite market vendor stories is Sidekicks Salsa. Jessie and Dan participated in our Salsa Smackdown – a competition held in conjunction with our annual Tomato Tasting. They received so much positive feedback and support for their recipe that they decided to start a salsa business!

FMC: Describe your market. 

EM: Countryside Winter Farmers’ Market is indoors, at Old Trail School. It is the winter counterpart to our main-season market at Howe Meadow. Both markets are located in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Countryside is a non-profit partner of CVNP, assisting with the unique and innovative Countryside Initiative program, which has brought active and sustainable agriculture into the Park.

FMC: How do you generate neighborhood excitement for your market? 

EM: The Winter Market at Old Trail School offers live music every week in the school’s cafeteria. We have some vendors set-up there, but have left a good amount of seating to encourage folks to grab breakfast and linger. They love it! As we do at all of our markets, we accept SNAP and offer a nutrition incentive program, called Carrot Cash. In 2016, we had our first-annual fundraising Pancake Breakfast. We’re looking forward to the second-annual!

FMC: How do you promote your market and what advice do you give to other markets?

EM: Countryside sends a weekly newsletter to our customers to share information about the upcoming market. We also update the website weekly with highlighted products, musician and special event information; our vendor map updates to share which vendors will be in attendance. We consistently use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to share highlights.

My advice (which, unfortunately, I don’t always have time to take) is to focus on what makes your market unique – the specific producers and products that they offer. Share their stories. Also, integrating educational information – these issues are often what keeps the market at the forefront of people’s minds and helps them prioritize attending, in a world full of multiple and conflicting time/energy/financial demands. My current focus is why buying directly from producers at market is relevant, compared to buying local produce from a retailer.

FMC: What are some of your market’s challenges and successes?

EM: Our Winter Market has a happy home at Old Trail School. We outgrew our former winter market location for vendors and customers.

The primary challenge at OTS is the cost of the venue. The Pancake Breakfast was one way we are working to address that.

Another challenge is that OTS is not accessible via public transportation, which limits our ability to provide the food access services that we would like to. We are STILL working on a way to address this. Success-wise, the story I shared above about the co-evolution of the winter markets and area producers is the best example. But every week that we provide growers and producers with a viable income stream is also a success.