WOOSTER, Ohio — It may be an empty, abandoned building, but officials with a local foods cooperative are confident they can turn it into a lively market for fresh produce, meat and eggs.
Local Roots Market and Cafe — the name given to a 13-member board of local produce growers and consumers — is set to open on Halloween day, Oct. 31.
From 10 a.m.-3 p.m., officials with the indoor, year-round retail farmers market will welcome visitors with hot coffee, cider, baked goods and music.
The building, located at 140 S. Market Street, formerly housed CorningWare cookware products.
Like a farmers market. It won’t yet be the produce center officials hope it will become, but they’re ready to introduce the public to their building and their plan.
For the first month, Local Roots hopes to keep the “spirit of the downtown farmers market,” said Secretary Jennifer McMullen.
For November, the market will be open every Saturday, with plans to increase the sale days thereafter.
The board received a $60,000 Specialty Crop Promotion grant from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to assist with start-up purchases, such as refrigerators, cash registers and sorting bins.
Local Roots will operate as a retail store, which sets it apart from other markets, and will strive for year-round operation. Producers can become members of the cooperative and can then sell their products from the store, or through an Internet listing, without needing to be present.
McMullen and the board will oversee marketing and sales, giving growers more time to spend in their fields.
“We want them (growers) to do what they do best, and we’ll help out with the rest,” she said.
Still growing. Although the store is prepared to open, much work remains to be done over the next several months, and officials hope they can eventually operate a licensed commercial kitchen and possibly provide a meat butcher.
The board also plans to teach consumers food preservation and cooking skills through live demonstrations, especially when its kitchen is complete.
“We know there’s a need in the area for understanding how to cook good, healthy nutritious meals on a budget and we want to be able to show how that can be done with locally produced whole foods,” McMullen said.
Community support. The building is owned by Wayne County and its commissioners are glad to rent it to the market.
“I think it’s wonderful to have a market like that in downtown Wooster,” said Wayne County Commissioner Ann Obrecht. “I think it will bring traffic downtown and help all the downtown establishments.”
Working with community
The group has already received a good supply of display racks and cases from Buehler’s Fresh Foods, a local grocery chain with multiple stores in nearby counties.
McMullen said Buehler’s does not seem concerned about possible competition, and is relatively sure herself that both will do fine, because the retail market will have its own niche customer.
Year-round market. Statistics show interest in local produce is growing, with an increase in farmers markets of about 13 percent over last year, according to USDA.
But for Local Roots, the challenge is convincing growers and consumers it can be a year-round venture.
Board member and producer Monica Bongue grows produce at Muddy Fork Farm near Reedsburg, Ohio. She planned ahead for the winter market by growing late-season produce and growing some inside high tunnels (plastic enclosures).
Membership is required to sell at the market and buy online, but anyone can shop at the store.