Akron-area residents will have more opportunities than ever this summer to purchase locally grown produce.
Farmers market season is under way, with two new markets making their debut and dozens of others returning, including the Haymaker Market in downtown Kent, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Ravenna residents have their first farmers market, thanks to an $85,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Market manager Sally Kelly said one of the goals of the market, which is at Meridian and Cedar streets, is to provide a place where senior citizens, who live in nearby high-rise apartments and don’t drive, can purchase fresh produce.
Kelly was director of Portage County Senior Services for 17 years and helped to administer the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, in which senior citizens, who meet income eligibility guidelines, are given vouchers to use for produce at farmers markets.
After years of receiving vouchers, Ravenna seniors now have a nearby market where they can use them, Kelly said. She said 3,800 Ravenna residents who live near the area where the market is held have poverty-level incomes and little access to fresh food.
By June 1, the market will be equipped to accept Ohio Direction cards (used by those receiving food assistance) and some vendors will accept credit and debit cards as well, she said.
The market officially opened Thursday, and while the initial number of vendors was small, Kelly said 18 have signed up to sell at the market once the growing season begins to produce a bigger harvest.
All of the produce sold at the market must be grown within 100 miles of downtown Ravenna, Kelly said. Current vendors sell honey, maple syrup, flowers, plants, artisan breads and goat cheese from Lucky Penny Farm Creamery in Kent.
The market also will offer nutrition education programs from the Ohio State University Extension and health screenings from the Ravenna Health Department
The farmers market in Randolph Township in Portage County will not return this year, but some of its vendors are expected to take part in the Ravenna and Kent markets nearby.
The Haymaker Farmers Market in Kent ushers in its 20th season on Saturday.
The market officially opens for the season at 9 a.m. on Franklin Avenue, under the Haymaker overpass between College and Summit streets. The market, which runs until 1 p.m., will continue on Saturdays through Oct. 27.
Market manager Kelly Ferry said the anniversary will be celebrated with a large harvest party closer to the end of the season, when the market mural on the Haymaker overpass will be unveiled.
Ferry said the market raised $8,500 of the $11,000 needed to complete the mural project.
The Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University donated a large portion of the money for the project and worked with children from Kent’s Holden Elementary School (the school nearest to the market) to help them write poetry based on food and their gardens.
Artist Elaine Hulihen, a KSU fine arts graduate, will paint the mural, which will include lines from the students’ poetry intertwined with images from the market and Kent’s history.
The children will be on hand to read their poems at the harvest party, Ferry said.
Work to prepare the bridge for the mural will begin this week, she said.
Throughout the summer, this year’s market will feature a booth from the Campus Kitchen at Kent State University, where student chefs will offer dishes made with seasonal market ingredients and provide recipe cards so customers will know how to prepare the dishes at home.
The market will accept Ohio Direction cards, credit cards and debit cards.
There will be musical performances each week from 10 a.m. to noon, and educational activities for children.
Residents of Macedonia will have a new market beginning June 26.
Alan Hamski, recreation coordinator for the city, said his department recognized how farmers markets are growing and decided to put one together so the community would have something new.
“One of the things we’ve noticed was the growing popularity of farmers markets throughout Northeast Ohio,” he said. “Twinsburg has one that was very nice and we decided to try one, too.”
The market will be at the city recreation center, 1494 E. Aurora Road, on Tuesday afternoons.
Macedonia is hosting a growers market, and is still looking for produce vendors. “We have less than 10 so far,” he said.
In Akron, the market in Highland Square sponsored by the Countryside Conservancy moves from Wednesdays to Thursdays. It had been on Thursdays until 2011, when it moved from the grounds of Stan Hywet to Highland Square. This year it opens May 31 and will be held from 4 to 7 p.m.
Market manager Beth Knorr said the Wednesday market was competing with other established Wednesday markets, and Thursday seems to be a preferred market day for many customers in the city.
The conservancy’s Saturday market, at Howe Meadow in Cuyahoga Falls, already has begun.
Knorr said this year is shaping up to be a bountiful season, which will be a welcome relief for growers after last year’s season was plagued by excessive rain and a cold spring planting season.
“Last season was really a tough season for produce growers, it was so wet and cold,” she said, adding that this year’s mild winter, coupled with a warm, dry spring has made for excellent planting conditions.
“Following such a rough year, I hope our growers can catch up for lost sales last year,” she said.
Knorr said the food truck Zydeco Bistro, operated by Wadsworth chef Johnny Schulze, will be at both markets to offer prepared foods. It marks the first time a food truck will be a fixture at the farmers markets, and Knorr said Schulze will be at the markets as often as his schedule permits.
The conservancy’s markets will continue to accept debit cards and Ohio Direction cards
A grant from Wholesome Wave also will allow the conservancy to continue its “Carrot Cash” program. Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit health-care organization, operates the program in more than 20 other states.
Through the program, anyone who uses an Ohio Direction card to purchase $20 of produce at the market will be given an additional $20 to use toward the purchase of fruits and vegetables.
“It’s an effort to help people bridge the gap to be able to purchase healthy foods,” Knorr said.
In addition to Macedonia, many markets are still accepting applications from vendors. (See market contact numbers in market list).