It’s farmers market season in Northeast Ohio and residents can relish the opportunity of poring over tables mounded with fresh produce in Stow, Tallmadge and Munroe Falls.
Vibrant vegetables and homemade goods whet the appetite at the Stow Community Farmers Market. But what Gary Aleman is doing behind the scenes is just as important: “I’m carrying the torch,” he says, by continuing to offer a community-oriented destination for families.
Aleman, the current market manager, co-founded the market in 2011 with his friend Mike Osman. Aleman says the venture paired his expertise on the vendor side with Osman’s passion for cooking. “We did it together, starting with only about three vendors, and grew it into a summertime tradition,” Aleman says. Osman, 56, died unexpectedly from a heart attack last summer. “It (Osman’s death) has affected lots of people here at the market,” Aleman says, adding, “I know Mike would’ve wanted us to keep on because people have come to really love the Farmers Market and that’s because of all the energy Mike put into it through the years.”
Now in its eighth year, the market is staged Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through Oct. 6 at the Stow Community Church, 1567 Pilgrim Drive. “It’s a labor of love,” Aleman says, explaining he’s committed to making it possible for Stow residents to ride their bikes or walk a block or two for access to healthy foods and a social connection. Aleman spent summers on his uncle’s farm in western Pennsylvania, so he says he understands the work involved in planting, harvesting and raising livestock. Aleman’s primary responsibility is procuring vendors for the market; right now, there are about 30 who participate and Aleman says he expects that number to swell as summer progresses and harvesting begins. The market offers an opportunity to run into old friends or get a new recipe from a farmer.
When the Stow Community Farmers Market debuted, Aleman estimates there were between 20 and 25 in the state; today, he figures there are 200. “People want to eat local and they want to support local businesses close to home,” he says. The market averages about 500 visitors a week who can buy a tomato or lettuce that’s been picked late Friday night or early Saturday morning before the market opens. From locally produced honey to maple syrup from Portage County, what the vendors have in common is they grow, cook or make the wares they sell. Aleman says he is always on the lookout for unusual offerings, such as homemade dog treats or miniature gardens, to expand the market’s offerings beyond agricultural products. The produce is only part of the draw, though; there’s live music and each week a different community organization is showcased.
Aleman also is exploring an entrepreneurial opportunity with the Stow-Munroe Falls City School district to get youngsters involved in the market using a “Shark Tank” approach. A television program by that name gives budding entrepreneurs a chance to turn their visions into reality.
“There’s nothing like having your own farmers market within your own city,” Aleman says. He’s made his home in Stow for 35 years and raised two sons here. “We’ve created something that is bigger than all of us,” he says. “I want the best for my city and to carry the torch for Mike.”
The Munroe Falls Farmers Market is presented on Tuesdays from 3-6 p.m. through Oct. 9 at Brust Park, 128 N. Main St. Chris Santee, a longtime vendor at the market, manages the endeavor on a volunteer basis. Santee sells homemade jams and jellies as well as cotton candy without artificial flavoring or coloring.
“While the Saturday markets are very popular,” Santee says, “the farmers have vegetables that are ripe every day of the week” so she describes the Munroe Falls Farmers Market as an option for ensuring your kitchen is full of the freshest local food all week.
Between 10-15 vendors participate each week and Santee says she’s noticed an increase in interest since last year. New in 2018 has been the addition of a rotating business sponsor, whose services are showcased.
Santee wasn’t a frequenter of area farmers markets until a friend suggested she try to sell her products at the one in Munroe Falls. “I always made homemade jelly with my mother when I was growing up, so I took a chance and it took off from there,” she says.
Growing market participation, by both community members and vendors, is Santee’s goal. “Once you get involved,” she says, “you get hooked.”
Farther south, social media is being used as a tool to drive sales at the Tallmadge Farmers Market. Andrea Kidder, the community development/communications manager for the city of Tallmadge, says its farmers market “seems to be as popular as it has ever been.”
“We have definitely put more focus on promoting the market this year through social media and the digital sign on the Circle, and it seems to be going very well,” Kidder reports.
The Tallmadge Farmers Market takes place on Thursdays from 4-7 p.m. in the parking lot of the Tallmadge Recreation Center, 46 N. Munroe Road. There are currently 36 registered vendors.
A recent look showed vendors are using more than the traditional word-of-mouth advertising to promote sales; they’re using the city’s farmers market Facebook page to advertise their presence, or in the case of inclement weather, their absence or to build buzz before they debut there. The Facebook page appears to offer those who like to socialize during the farmers markets another means of building a community on the other days of the week.
Reporter Ellin Walsh can be reached at 330-541-9419, email@example.com or @EllinWalsh_RPC.