Hudson Farmers Market thrives despite pandemic restrictions

Eric Marotta
Kent Weeklies

HUDSON — On the slowest day of the season, vendors still sold out of some goods, as the remnants of Hurricane Laura threatened to wash-out the weekly market on the city's downtown green Saturday.

But instead of torrential rain that had been forecast, there was a mix of clouds and sun, and dozens of people filled downtown, on their way to and from the Hudson Farmers Market.

"It's slower than it's been for the past three weeks," said market manager J Hudson. He said the letter "J" is his legal first name, after his parents couldn't pick from several first names that begin with that letter.

He's been the market manager for the past five years, for a total of eight of its 13 years in business.

He was an investment analyst for Key Bank until the Great Recession.

"I used to write reports on companies for investors," he said. "It was the equivalent of writing a 20-page research paper every day."

Now he devotes much of his time to raising his 5-year-old son and to bringing fresh food and other goods to town.

Though the market is named after the city, as opposed to its manager, Hudson knows all of the market's vendors and their goods by heart.

"Excuse me, are you the man who sells the garlic?" asked one patron, a woman with slightly graying hair and a white and black speckled bandana covering her face.

From behind his light blue mask, Hudson directed her to a tent on the opposite side of Church Street from the market's headquarters, on the bandstand side of The Green.

"Mr. Yang has garlic ... It's a little bit different; it still has a bit of the stem on it because he's already started to dry it out," Hudson told her.

He said the other vendor who sells garlic is at a farmers market in Geauga County that day.

From left, Hudson Farmers Market employee Suzanna Thiese, manager J Hudson, and Sarah Brewer, volunteer and board member.

Volunteer Sarah Brewer and Suzanna Thiese, who works for the market part-time, were with Hudson in the headquarters tent, helping sell posters that bolster the market's bottom line.

"This is the best job I've ever had," said Thiese, a nurse who is also working on a PhD.

"It's fun to be with the local farmers and meeting with people who actually grow the food," she added. "I think coronavirus has made us more aware of the essential workers. It's nice to meet all the farmers who are stabilizing our food economy."

Brewer said she had been a regular patron before deciding to volunteer and serve on the non-profit market's board.

"I like the atmosphere and wanted to be part of it," she said. "During the pandemic it's nice to come out and have nice fruits and vegetables. Everyone is friendly."

Due to the coronavirus, the market this year occupies both sides of the downtown green, while the city closed the stretch of Church Street between the two areas to allow for social distancing.

Vendors are also required to wear masks, though appropriate social distancing made an occasional break for photos possible.

Heather and Mark Lalli, with their 2-year-old son Lucas, dropped by to look over the market's posters, produced each year by a local artist.

Heather said they are building a collection of them in their kitchen and visit regularly.

"We do swim lessons, we get coffee and then we come here," she said.

A full collection of posters, unique to each year dating back to 2010, is available for purchase.

Hudson said the market has a total of 40 tents, though some of the vendors have multiple tents, and other vendors are not present every week.

"Some people sell something that everyone doesn't want to buy every week, like beef jerky," he explained.

He estimated about half of the visitors are regular customers, while the other half are new to the market, or infrequent visitors.

While patrons are asked to maintain social distancing, vendors must be from nearby — within 100 miles. He even said a vendor from Sandusky, 115 miles away, had applied to sell goods and was rejected.

"That's the definition of a locavore — someone who eats what is produced within 100 miles," he said.

Virginia Goodell and her son Jay, with gallons of maple syrup and other products produced at their namesake Portage County farm.

As it is, vendors from Ashland, Youngstown, Salem and other nearby communities filled The Green.

From Portage County, Virginia Goodell and her son Jay were on hand with a table full of jugs of maple syrup produced on their farm. Virginia, an active 98-year-old matron of the family business, said her father made syrup when she was a young girl. The Mantua farm itself dates back seven generations, to 1825.

Several tables are occupied with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from the Quiroz Family Farm, in Salem.

Owner Miguel Quiroz said his 80-acre Mahoning County operation produces peaches, nectarines, lettuce, beets, peppers, zucchini and many other garden staples. Quiroz and his brother Jose immigrated to the United States 20 years ago from Oaxaca, Mexico. The specialize in peppers, Hudson said.

Closer to home, Hudson-based and family run Smyrna Mediterranean Morsels was nearly sold out of home-made staples, including stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and baba ganoush.

Some baklava and meat pies remained available in a small, portable refrigerator.

Daughter Feyza Mutlu said she helps her mother cook as she helped customers with their selections. She said she was at another market that day.

Hudson refers to the market as a "business incubator," noting Smyrna got its start as a business at the Hudson Farmers Market, as have other vendors over the years.

At the end of the morning, Bradwood Farms, located just north of Ashland, had dandelion greens and watercress left over. The farm's other offerings include bibb lettuce, red and green oak leaf lettuce, romaine, arugula and herbs.

A soccer ball sized bag of loosely packed watercress cost $3.

"Because they're hydroponic, they can grow produce year-round, which is unusual," said Hudson.

The Hudson Farmers Market will continue every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through Oct. 10.

For more information, see http://www.hudsonfarmersmarket.org/

Eric Marotta can be reached at emarotta@recordpub.com