Farmers markets are not only a great place to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, jams, jellies and baked goods, they’re great places to chat with the people growing and making those wonderful products. You can even buy purple green beans!I visited Youngstown’s Northside Farmers Market, recently, and though I was expecting fresh produce and heirloom varieties, I discovered more: A community of growers dedicated to enriching neighborhoods. It’s no secret that Youngstown has had its fair share of bad luck and tough times.
Since 1970, the city’s population has dropped from 139,000 residents to 67,000 and that means there’s a lot of empty and dilapidated properties around the city.Thanks to organizations like the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, which manages the Iron Roots Urban Farm, those empty lots are becoming places for neighbors to come together to clean up the neighborhood and grow food in the process. Iron Roots has a stand at the farmers market to sell its produce, but if you ask, you can also get a few growing pointers, as well. The Iron Roots Urban Farm also serves as a training center for would-be gardeners and urban farmers. I also found a stand run by Marla Herrrmann, she’s been coming to the market for several years. Not only does Marla grow herbs, peppers and other goodies in her garden, she also provides hot (and cold) foods for her customers at the market. When I visited, Marla was demonstrating how to make a chocolate cake with black beans instead of flour. That sounds crazy right? You can find the recipe here. After tasting the final product, I have to admit, it was better than any chocolate cake I’ve ever had and I’m quite the cake connoisseur (if there’s one thing I make sure to eat on a semi-weekly basis, it’s cake). Marla grows her produce in her front and back yard. She has plenty of extras and she comes to the farmers market to share them with others. Jay grows 65 different varieties of tomatoes on a 1-acre plot of land near his home. He has 535 individual plants. Where do you get seeds for 65 different kinds of tomatoes? Easy, you trade with growers all over the world, at least that’s what Jay does. I picked up some purple green beans from Jay, though I forgot to take a picture, I was too busy eating them.
Now for the serious
Farmers markets like The Northside Farmers market provide a place for residents to buy locally and regionally grown food at prices that are competitive with super markets. Many farmers markets (including Northside) now accept EBT transactions. So if a family has access to an Ohio Direction Card or some other sort of food assistance program, the family can purchase goods from the markets. Youngstown used to be a food desert. A food desert is a place where healthy and affordable food is difficult to obtain. According to YNDC, most of the city’s 66,982 residents live more than a half-mile from a grocery store, that’s a problem. Now, because of the farmers markets and some new groceries that have opened, the situation is getting better. The next time you’re by Wick Park in Youngstown on Saturdays, stop by the farmers market, talk with the growers and pick up some purple green beans, you’ll be filling your belly and helping the community at the same time!