*This story first appeared in The Budget’s July 18, 2018, Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
Open for four hours each Wednesday afternoon from June through September, the Tuscarawas Valley Farmers Market is more than just a place to pick up fresh local foods, all sourced from within a 50-mile radius. It’s also a place to gather, learn, listen and taste.
“The whole idea is about community, what is in this community that creates value and allows us to flourish and thrive as a community,” said Mark McKenzie, chairman for the weekly farmers market. “This allows us the opportunity to expose that to the community, all the good things we have, the generosity we have. It all comes together on a market day.”
Since 2009, the Tuscarawas Valley Farmers Market has been bringing together families, neighbors, visitors and local food producers together each week during the grow- ing season at the Tuscarawas Valley Fairgrounds in an effort to enhance the quality of life of residents, boost the local economy and promote integrity in the food system.
“We are a producers-only market, and what that means is you have to be the author of the product you rep- resent. You can’t buy someone else’s product and sell it here because what we’re trying to build in this market is integrity in our local food system, and we want people to be able to ask a question about the pastoral practices of that vendor and get an honest response based on what they do,” McKenzie explained. “This gives a person an opportunity to be able to make food choices that fit their un- derstanding of what healthy food is.”
Initially, the weekly market featured about a dozen vendors, and while shoppers could purchase fresh ingredients to take home and prepare, there were no on-site dining options. “It was just a market without anything to offer the public to eat,” McKenzie explained.
Wanting to give shoppers an opportunity to experience the fresh local ingredients found in the market, organizers set up a mobile kitchen known as the Market Grill.
“We sourced all of the product for the menu from our vendors,” McKenzie said. “The bun for the hamburger came from one of our bakers. The hamburger itself came from one of our beef providers. Everything that went on it other than the ketchup and the mustard – and in some cases we even had that depending on the vendors that we had – came from the market. The idea was to showcase what you could purchase here and what you could make for yourself when you went home.”
In addition to giving shoppers an opportunity to taste the products, the Market Grill also provided an additional revenue stream to help sustain the market, according to McKenzie. “The vendor fees aren’t enough to do all the marketing and all the things we try to do to promote this market,” he said. “The Market Grill provided that source of income.”
The operation was such a hit that organizers eventually began feeling the pressure of trying to manage both the weekly market and the mobile kitchen, according to McKenzie, and so in 2014, they reached out to the community leadership training program Leadership Tuscarawas for help.
As part of the Leadership Tuscarawas program, participants complete a small group project designed to assist a local nonprofit agency or organization with a particular need. For the farmers market, a corporate sponsorship program was created to replace the revenue that had previously been generated through the Market Grill.
“The corporate sponsorship gave us that relief and now sustains us economically,” McKenzie said. “It’s been fantastic how the community has stepped up and supported this market.”
Today, the market has grown to about 30 local vendors, and their products are showcased with Cook’s Corner cooking demonstrations led by area chefs. “The cooking demos are another way now because we don’t have the Market Grill, for people to come to the market and see what you can do with some of the product,” McKenzie explained.
On-site dining continues to be offered, with the former Market Grill replaced by a rotating batch of local food trucks including local favorites like Ross Mountain BBQ, Bahler Street Pizza, Amish Country Donuts, and Schloneger’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream.
While shopping, dining or waiting for their food to be prepared, market-goers can also enjoy the sounds of the Tuscarawas Valley, with a local band or musician slated to perform each week of the market. “It’s showcasing what our community has to offer in the form of music as well because these are local musicians,” McKenzie shared.
Acts are not paid to perform, according to McKenzie, but offer up their time and talents at no cost because they believe in the cause. “They do it as basically an altruistic endeavor,” he explained.
In fact, the entire operation, from its board of directors to the individuals who help set up and tear down the weekly market, is run by volunteers, according to McKenzie. “I think it’s an opportunity for people to be able to give back to their community in a way that’s wholesome, and that’s what we try to promote,” McKenzie explained.
“It’s just a nice, nice market. It’s great to be out here,” shared Ervin Weaver of Weaver Truck Patch who is a regular part of the weekly event.
Liz and Jim Braun of Dover also enjoy the market. “It’s a nice outing,” they said. “It’s pleasant. It’s nice to see people enjoying themselves, and we appreciate all the things that the producers do because we both grew up on farms.”
Tuscarawas Valley Farmers Market is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Additional volunteers are always welcomed, and individuals can also support the cause by shopping at the weekly market. “They can come and shop at the market, quite frankly, utilize the local market and support our food agriculture,” McKenzie said. “That’s the biggest way people can contribute.”
Corporate sponsors are also being sought to help the organization fund its long-term goal of opening up an all-weather facility. “If we had our own space, we could possibly, one, have the market go longer into the season than we do currently, and, two, possibly offer more days per week for the market to be open,” McKenzie explained. “We have an active dialogue going on with a number of entities to try to accomplish that.
To inquire about volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, call 330- 577-8836 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information and updates about upcoming market days, find them on Facebook @tuscfarmersmarket.