Eat Like a Local: Local Food Year-Round at Kent’s Haymaker Farmers’ Market
We just closed out another amazing outdoor season of Kent’s Haymaker Farmers’ Market, but the local food magic continues through fall and winter indoors. This thriving market has gone through many changes since opening in 1992 with only a handful of vendors in the summer season to now more than 50 farmers, bakers, and value-added food producers participating in a market that draws visitors from all over the region.
Every Saturday from May through October, Portage County’s oldest producers-only market runs from 9am -1pm rain or shine, with a double line of tents stretching from the edge of the Treno Ristorante parking lot on Franklin Ave. to Summit St. The market offers a wide variety of prepared foods; fresh fruits; vegetables; herbs; fresh cut flowers; garden starts; perennials; jams and jellies; preserves; grass-fed beef, pork, and chicken; pastured eggs; pastured cow, goat, and sheep milk cheeses; honey and honey products; maple syrup and maple products; baked goods including traditional, vegan and gluten free; fresh handmade pasta; locally roasted coffee and whole beans; tea; herbal remedies; popsicles; gourmet culinary herb blends; kettle corn; handmade soaps, lotions, and body care products; art and more.
Once produce season is in full swing, the fruit stands always have a line – so worth the short wait to walk away with bags of plump sweet berries, tender stone fruit, or crisp juicy apples. Is there anything better than fresh fruit in season grown just a few miles from where you bought it? Although I will say the same thing about sweet corn, tomatoes, green beans, and all of the greens. No matter what kind of weather circumstances the season delivers to our hard-working farmers, there’s always something delicious to be found at the market – and knowing how much of their time, money, and labor they put on the line to bring it to us makes it taste even better to me. Farming truly is a labor of love, and spending time getting to know the market vendors makes it crystal clear how much they care.
Haymaker Farmers’ Market provides a venue for farmers and food producers to sell their products and the all-volunteer market board is committed to promoting the market and maintaining its producers-only rule while also promoting the market through social media, the website, advertising, community outreach, and education. The market also acts as a small business incubator for food startups, giving producers an opportunity to test their products and build a customer base. Many value-added producers have gone on to bring their locally sourced and produced foods into grocery store chains such as Heinen’s and Whole Foods.
We’re lucky in Kent to have restaurant owners and chefs eager to feature local products from market vendors on their menus and specials boards. At Taco Tonto’s you’ll find Black Dog Acres’ eggs in their weekly Saturday brunch burrito, and they create flavorful sauces for the brave palate with a variety of Barton Farms and Gardens’ No Joke Hot, Hot, and Hot peppers, and has Trailing Edge Farm’s alfalfa sprouts on the menu daily. Erie Street Kitchen sources all bread products from Brimfield Bread Oven and desserts from Busy B Bakery as well as Tierra Verde Farm grass-fed beef burgers, Lucky Penny Farm Chevre, microgreens from Seasons Micro Farm, seasonal vegetables and salad greens from a variety of market farmers, and more.
It costs those business owners more to use local ingredients and it means having a more flexible menu to deal with unpredictable growing conditions and seasonally available products. You can also find excellent prepared foods at the market that feature locally grown and produced ingredients. Scratch food truck and Erie Street Kitchen alternately offer visitors a fresh, flavorful menu of breakfast and lunch dishes to enjoy at picnic tables and benches while listening to the day’s musical act. Smyrna Mediterranean Morsels brings many hot vegetarian and vegan foods like soups, stuffed cabbage, and grape leaves, in addition to their homemade baklava.
Every week from 10am-noon, market vendors and visitors enjoy the many sounds of fantastically talented local musicians playing a variety of instruments and styles including bluegrass, folk, rock, blues, Irish, traditional mountain songs of America and more. The music program is funded by the Celebrate Kent! grant and an Ohio Arts Council grant and allows local musicians to build a wider audience while adding to the homegrown atmosphere of every outdoor market day.
This year the music program will continue part-time at the indoor market which runs every Saturday from November through April at the United Methodist Church of Kent from 10am–1pm with about thirty vendors participating. The annual holiday market welcomes additional vendors offering handmade arts, crafts, and gift items and holiday music performances throughout the day.
The market also invites area artists to sell their wares and offer demonstrations one Saturday each month and has hosted potters, fiber artists, glass blowers, printmakers, blacksmiths, and more. As part of the market’s ongoing mission to provide educational opportunities to the community, the Campus Kitchen at Kent State University offers a weekly recipe tasting and demonstration as well as a library of printed nutrition information take-aways. To further the community building power of the market, local organizations attend to educate customers about local food, gardening, agriculture, and environmental activities.
The board of directors and management have worked hard to build market access for everyone, including those who are dealing with food insecurity. Every week, customers can visit the market information booth under the bridge to swipe their Ohio Direction card to use their SNAP benefits and receive up to a $20 match in Produce Perks for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many vendors also accept Senior vouchers and WIC vouchers. Customers short on cash can swipe credit and debit cards at the market booth in exchange for same-as-cash tokens they can spend with any vendor at any time.
The Produce Perks program is partially supported by the Socially Responsible Sweat Shop of Kent, founded in 2013 by visionary Market Assistant Mary Ann Kasper. The SRSS is a large and always growing group of local sewists who produce beautiful functional items such as yoga mat bags, meditation pillows, eye pillows, tote bags, and more from recycled fabrics and supplies. Check out their wonderful table under the bridge right next to the market info booth.
Northeast Ohio has many incredible farmers’ markets, but Kent’s feels uniquely convivial; like a big extended and chosen family reunion. People tend to spend hours there catching up with friends and neighbors, sharing a meal while enjoying the music, and talking with vendors while stocking up on their favorite local foods. It might seem as if the most important value that comes from purchasing directly from food producers at a farmers’ market is a financial one. Circulating our hard-earned money within our communities is certainly important and some might even say radical in the face of big box stores. But I would argue that the relationships we build with producers, as our dollars and products change hands week after week and year after year, offers a value that can’t be quantified.
The market is a powerful microcosm of community built around a function that every human must participate in for survival. We all eat several times a day for the entirety of our lives. Preparing some of our meals with locally sourced ingredients adds a layer of connection to the way we think about food – and if you haven’t yet visited Haymaker Farmers’ Market to see what’s available right here in Kent, there’s no time like this Saturday. And the next.
Kelly Hambly is a marketing and advertising copywriter, mother, poet, gardener, and former Haymaker Farmers Market manager. She lives in Kent (West Side represent!) and is grateful to sit on the board of directors for her favorite Kent organization – the best market in NEO.
Photos courtesy of Matt Keffer, Haymaker Farmers’ Market, and Roger Hoover