Regional farmers’ markets bring community to Dayton

Fresh tomatoes for sale; photo: Centerville Farmers’ Market

By Tara Pettit

Most of us are aware of the obvious benefits a local farmers’ market brings to a community. It gets people out, helps local farmers, and promotes healthy eating – overall, a positive addition to any community that decides to support and grow an ongoing market. Local markets do get people out, help area farmers, and promote healthy eating and communities with ready access to locally produced foods and products will confirm that having a dedicated venue where quality items can be purchased is invaluable. On a deeper level though, local markets are working underground with an even greater motive, impacting communities in subtler ways that over time lead to true cultural and societal transformation. And when a network of markets formed by proximity and inspired by the work of already-functioning venues begins to function seamlessly across multiple communities, the benefits of gathering and buying local are infiltrated and shape the blueprint of existing community livelihood and future development.

Dayton is home to several farmers’ markets which span a 20 mile radius across the greater Miami Valley region. From Piqua to Lebanon and Eaton to Springfield, Dayton’s markets form a network of community-supporting hubs that collectively offer a wide range of foods, products, and mostly importantly the social, economic, and environmental benefits that strengthen communities and improve infrastructural quality. Individually unique, each of Dayton’s markets brings a quality to its community intrinsic to that particular area’s people, culture, and social dynamics. Collectively powerful, Dayton’s markets comprise an engine for change and growth, allowing communities to adapt and respond to the particular needs of its land and people.

Across southwest Ohio, Dayton’s network of markets is leaving a lasting footprint with each venue offering an aspect of change and improvement, contributing to the success of its community.

Shiloh Market: Supporting Local Engagement 

You don’t visit Shiloh’s farmers’ market on a time schedule or with the expectation of “getting your business done.” Because that’s not how “business is done” at this market. As a long-standing market of 19 years with a strong following of loyal patrons, Shiloh Market is just as much focused on its social interactions – between vendors and patrons and among patrons – as it is on the products being sold.

Market manager Zella Cook explains that the market commits to delivering quality in products and goods, which are always fresh and local, as well as quality interactions between vendors and patrons to make every visit worthwhile from both a shopping and social perspective.

“Many people just stop by to talk, share stories, and generally be “part” of our market,” Cook said.

Foundational to the market’s operations is its support of local missions through its partnership with Front Porch Ministries of Shiloh Church. Through hosting weekly breakfasts and other mission-focused activities, the market maintains a greater purpose of improving the individual lives of community members.

“Our missions, as well as the wonderful vendors we have, are, I believe, what draws regulars to us almost every week. We have provided a consistent market and community gathering place to the Harrison Township area for many, many years,” Cook said.

Shiloh Market is also one of the only farmers’ markets in Montgomery County to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) transactions and is committed to further developing its special needs initiatives through its Produce Perks incentive program, which allows customers to accrue incentive tokens to purchase food. The program and the market’s other special needs assistance efforts are intrinsically tied to its mission-focused community engagement purpose and vision.

“If we can help to make even a few of our neighbors healthier and happier, whether it’s through help or conversation, I think we’re doing a great job,” Cook said.

Centerville Market: Supporting Local Health & Education

High quality local products and consumer education are Centerville Market’s key priorities and the foundational elements contributing to the tremendous success of the market’s role in the community. Centerville Market makes up more than 15 expert vendors who are not only experts in their craft, but expert educators in food quality, food preparation, and consumer health. As a result, this market is one where patrons regularly converse with vendors, get their questions answered, and learn something new with each visit.

“Our market truly maintains an atmosphere that promotes patron communication with the vendors, giving shoppers the opportunity to learn about how their product was grown,” says Kristen Gopman, assistant to Centerville’s city manager.

The market maintains strict vendor requirements for growing, producing, and selling their products – freshness, local production, and naturalness are primary audit categories the market manager holds vendor product standards to. These high quality product standards, along with the quality education delivered by subject matter experts in their industry and craft, make this one of the most talked about markets for finding a special gift, getting innovative ideas for meal preparation, and never leaving disappointed by mediocre product quality or limited vendor knowledge.

“The community has embraced our market and we receive positive reviews in person and on social media regularly,” Gopman said.

A variety of diverse local products such as raw milk and honey soaps, fresh roasted coffees and espresso beans, and organic gourmet mushrooms, keep the market’s offerings interesting and unique, always sold with the highest of quality and craftsmanship.

Lebanon Market: Supporting a Local Farmer-Directed Food System

Lebanon sits at the furthest southern point of the greater Dayton area’s network of markets in the predominately rural Warren County. It goes without saying then, that Lebanon Market seeks to support its area farmers and to build a local food system that directly contributes to the continued success of its community farming resources. The Lebanon Market prioritizes farm to market product delivery and focuses on increasing opportunities for small farms, local growers, and entrepreneurs to sell their products directly to consumers.

According to Lebanon’s Deputy City Manager Scott Brunka, the city had seen an increased demand from people who want to purchase their food products locally and to take advantage of the fresh products offered by the many nearby farms.

“Many community members enjoy being able to purchase healthy food directly from the growers and producers that they are able to get to know at the market,” Brunka says. “Alternatively, our small farms and businesses have the opportunity to sustain their businesses by selling directly to consumers.”

Because Lebanon focuses its market operations on direct farm to consumer sales and promoting local farmers, the market’s atmosphere is highly sociable and encourages farmer/patron interactions. Many vendor farmers are dedicated to delivering consumer food education as much as they are selling their product. The majority of consumers at the Lebanon Market are eager to learn about their food source, farmers’ practices, and methods of growing from their local farmers.

“This market is such a great place for like-minded people to gather, socialize, and learn from each other,” Brunka says. “It promotes healthy food options for the residents in the area, and increases awareness of how important it is to be educated about where your food comes from and what’s in it.”

Sugarcreek Market: Supporting Local Economy 

If Sugarcreek Market is one thing, it most certainly stands as one of the most bustling and lively markets in the area. Evoking a true marketplace atmosphere, Sugarcreek Market is designed to function as an active contributor to a more vibrant local economy by drawing the community to local vendors as well as the businesses located within the area.

The Sugarcreek Market is strategically located within the Sugarcreek business district, operating right alongside other businesses that uphold the city’s economic growth. As such, the market maintains a high energy, busy atmosphere where shoppers come to complete all their shopping right within the Sugarcreek district. Featuring more than 40 vendors during the summer, Sugarcreek’s market serves as a one-stop shop for many consumers and a convenient access point to the many surrounding businesses.

“Our market draws consumers to the Sugarcreek area on a regular basis and provides opportunities for other businesses to benefit from the influx of potential buyers,” says Annemarie Caudill, HR Generalist for Sugarcreek Township. “Sugarcreek businesses support and encourage the market while its residents regularly patronize its vendors and excitedly come back each week looking for new and seasonal offerings.”

With the longest running market each year, the Sugarcreek Market offers fresh and local food for most holidays in the region – another consumer attractor contributing to its expansive marketplace reputation. In the winter months, the market serves as a meeting location for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) package pick-ups when community members purchase cold-weather crops.

In line with its vision to impact local economic growth, Sugarcreek Market also strives to keep costs low and keeps a competitive advantage with consumers who are increasingly buying more of their groceries at the market. The township has considered the farmers’ market economic impacts and contribution to local business growth as the market continues to attract the community to the area to shop.

“Without such a place to buy fresh and local food, customers could be inclined to take their business elsewhere,” Caudill says. “With a wide range of retail and specialty stores in close proximity, farmers’ market patrons can do all their weekend shopping in one place.”

Markets on Mission

Dayton’s network of farmers’ markets certainly brings a wealth of positive health, education, social, and economic benefits to the many communities supporting individual markets and for a wide range of consumers. However, beyond the benefits experienced by the average market shopper, Dayton’s markets are broadening their vision to extend targeted benefits where they matter most and to those who may not have the luxury of spending more for quality, local items. Dayton’s regional markets are increasingly “operating on mission” to address local food insecurity issues and to fill a unique role in ensuring our most vulnerable residents have access to fresh, nutritious foods at a minimal cost.

On a national level, farmers’ markets are being used to target food insecurity issues as a strategy to improve access to healthy food for low-income families and communities. According to research conducted by Columbia University for a Project for Public Spaces initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, policy makers and community advocates interested in urban food access are looking to markets as an important way to bring affordable, healthy food options into low-income communities and are incorporating strategies that best attract low-income shoppers to markets. Accepting food assistance programs like Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a becoming a widely used and effective strategy for many cities. Dayton is also looking to this strategy for its own food insecurity solutions.

Shiloh Market is the first market in the Dayton area to begin accepting SNAP and EBT and has since incorporated the Produce Perks incentive, a SNAP program developed by partners of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition to improve access and affordability of fresh local produce for low-income residents. Produce Perks incentive tokens are provided to consumers who use an Ohio Direction Card to purchase food and consumers can use their food assistance benefits to withdraw a desired amount. The transaction produces tokens at a dollar-for-dollar match to every dollar spent at the market. Consumers at Shiloh Farmers’ Market can also use their credit cards by swiping for increments of $5 in exchange for $5 tokens which can then be used at any vendor’s booth.

Other area markets such as Yellow Springs’ Market and Sugarcreek Market have incorporated strategies to improve local food insecurity through market operations by holding food drives to benefit local pantries, donating leftover market items, and also accepting food vouchers.

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