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WOOSTER, Ohio — Providing more opportunities for produce farmers to grow earlier in the spring and later in the fall has been a goal the past dozen years.
Thanks to improvements like high tunnels — greenhouse-like structures — new seed varieties and better practices, those efforts are paying off.
Farmers are “getting early produce in the spring and later produce in the fall,” said Christie Welch, an Ohio State University Extension farmers market specialist.
High tunnels and season extension have been popular topics at land grant universities the past several years. It’s taken some time and practice, but farmers are getting used to the new technology and it’s paying for itself.
Leslie Schaller, director of programs at Appalachian Center for Economic Network (ACEnet) in Athens, said farmers are also taking interest in using community kitchens and local food incubators.
The kitchen or incubator can be used in a variety of ways, including teaching people how to cook and try new recipes, or to produce mass amounts of food for farmers markets. The facility must have specific health and safety licensing for whatever types of foods or processing is performed.
Their flagship project is the ACEnet Food Ventures Center — a 12,000 square foot food and manufacturing facility serving the broader Appalachia region.
It’s one of the first projects of its kind in Ohio and after opening, the Athens Farmers Market has almost tripled, she said. The market regularly features more than 115 vendors.
Schaller said units like ACEnet operate as a community development organization and benefit the whole community — from low-income families to the local college — Ohio University.
She said grants are sometimes available, but are more difficult to find in recent years. Communities and cities considering a community kitchen project should “do your market research,” she said, know potential market demand and who is interested.