By: Katie Sobiech
Eat local. Shop local. Think local.
This new “craze” has been building across our nation, and area, for good reasons; the obvious being it helping build up local economies, supporting local businesses, and providing healthier, fresher food options.
The Countryside Conservancy (CC), a non-profit organization, came together to provide an outlet for local farmers and entrepreneurs to sell their goods – connecting farmers to the community.
Their vision, as stated on their website, is for Northeast, Ohio to be “filled with thriving farming and food entrepreneurs: where farms are viable businesses, farmland is a treasured resource, and local food is commonplace” (www.cvcountryside.org).
They work in a 16-county region all over Northeast, Ohio with markets in three different locations, including Howe Meadow in Peninsula, Highland Square in West Akron, and, in the winter Old Trail School, a private school within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Markets and More
Though famous for their Farmer’s Markets, they also have the Countryside Initiative Program which educates farmers through classes and webinars, including people from across the country.
Their cooking and gardening classes are quite popular. They also teach on everything from raising backyard chickens, to determining price points for products being sold.
Along with educating farmers, the CC is creating awareness within the general public about food choices and options.
“We want to encourage people to think about where their food comes from, how it’s grown, what systems it was produced in and how it was brought to life. We want to ask ‘what different choices can we make about where we get our food and how that food is produced?’” Beth Knorr, Market Manager at the Countryside Conservancy, said.
Knorr has worked with the CC since 2007, managing the Farmer’s Market and working in farmer and consumer education.
The CC currently has about 65 vendors at their Farmer’s Markets.
A variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses can be found there, as well as other natural products.
“Our focus is on food, fresh produce, meats and cheeses, but we realize that more and more people want to spend their local food dollars with local businesses. We have local bakers that are baking really fantastic bread, handmade pastas, honey, jam, salsas, goat’s milk soap and various other handcrafted soaps, locally roasted coffee beans…” Knorr said.
George Remington of Morningside Farm has been selling produce at the farmer’s markets for 4 years now. He says “They’re pioneers. They recognized early on that people want fresh, non-toxic food and that supporting local enterprises helps the community in many ways. It brings people together.”
Alan Halko, Owner of Halko Spring Hill Farm, has been a vendor at the markets for 10 years.
“I’ve been here since it started and it’s grown significantly since then. It’s always been a great outlet. My business has grown tremendously as a result of being a part of the program. I’ve had (loyal) customers coming since it’s started,” Halko said.
Creating “Farm to Table” Culture
The CC finds great value in cultivating a “farm-to-table” culture.
“We are growing a farm-to-table culture here in Northeast, Ohio through various work. We have a very unique land access program with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park that offers for-profit farmers leases in the park,” Knorr said.
Farm-to-table encourages people to have a direct connection with where their food is grown and the farmer who grows it.
“Community Supported Agriculture is a really great example of that, where you buy a share from a farm and every week you receive a portion of the produce that is grown on that farm. You bring it home directly from the farm and prepare it for your family. You’re building that relationship with the grower,” Knorr said.
This is why they’ve chosen people to be at the market who have created and grown their own products.
“Not only are those meals tastier because the food is grown with more care, but the varieties being grown are different than those that are grown for ship-ability. They are flavorful varieties,” Knorr said.
“You also have more of a story to your dinner. You have a connection with the farmer and your experience. You have that personal interaction. It’s much more of a community-oriented way to eat. I think this brings quality of life,” she continued.
Knorr and those at the CC find tremendous value in food and how it affects our lives.
“Food is a decision that we make 3 times a day and it really does have a very large impact on how the world around us is being used. We do what we do because we believe agriculture and the culture of growing food is an important part of not only our history, but our future, and the way that it’s done really does affect our environment, our livelihood and how well our communities are being taken care of. It’s an incredibly important thing,” Knorr said.
Countryside Conservancy Come out to the Market!
“I would encourage people to come down to the farmer’s markets. You’ll be astonished as to how much you can get from local farmers, and the quality is really second-to-none. It’s a great thing,” Knorr said.
The markets take place every Saturday at Howe Meadow from May 11th to October 26th . The Highland Square Farmer’s Market starts May 30th and will be every Thursday evening from 4-7 p.m. through October 3rd, and the winter market starts up in October and ends April 27th.