Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day at the Market: Findlay

The campus here is back to buzzing with students completely moved-in and Fall semester classes underway. The hectic days of planning for their return is over, and we've fallen back into a routine of researching and planning for other projects.

Yesterday we heeded the advice of several regional farmers' market managers and visited Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati. Tucked into the rough-around-the-edges Cincinnati downtown, Findlay Market is more than 150 years old and easily one of the most successful in the state. They operate a year-round indoor market which is open every day except Monday. On Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from April to November growers set-up outside in the traditional farmers' market style, under a colorful pavilion.

The number of growers outside yesterday was only about half as many as show up on the weekends, which can bring in upwards of 2,000 people on Saturday alone. Findlay manager Cynthia Brown told us to come back on the weekend if we wanted an accurate impression of the markets' popularity; I don't think there was any doubt from us about that.

The baskets of produce yesterday had colors that jumped off the table. Peppers and eggplants bigger than I've seen this season filled out the table of a farmer from northern Kentucky. I bought a bag of Serrano, jalapeno and chili peppers from him for a future batch of our famous (self-proclaimed) Grow Food, Grow Hope salsa.

We spoke at length with Ms. Brown about the history and current state of the market. She was extremely knowledgeable about certain aspects of the market that will be helpful to us, like: how best to manage EBT and food stamps at the market; what's better...permanent or movable awnings for growers?; how to audit growers and survey consumers effectively, et cetera. As a former chef and longtime foodie, she had an interesting perspective on how growers should focus on specific commodity crops and build on relationships with restaurants and regional suppliers.

We're planning a return weekend trip to the market in the near future to see it in its natural, bustling state. And, we need to buy some more kettle corn from the man at the "Mom Made It" kettle corn booth. As one farmer quipped when we were walking away: "The stuff is habit forming." We completely agree.

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