Section: Features

Homegrown produce connects local shoppers and farmers

Homegrown produce connects local shoppers and farmers

An array of canopies caught my eye as I approached Mount Vernon Public Square from one of its side streets. Beneath was an amalgam of fruits, vegetables and farm-made products. “It’s all fresh, local food,” said Knox County farmer Wayne Spray of the farmer’s market produce last Saturday.

The market runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Saturday from the first weekend in May to the last weekend in October. It gives farmers like Spray the chance to sell their goods to local shoppers. Vendors must come from within a twenty-five mile radius, and they must grow or make their products themselves.

Formed by a group of volunteers, the Mount Vernon farmer’s market has been running since 1999. At the beginning, only a few vendors were involved, but the event has grown to accommodate over thirty.

According to Spray, who became involved in 2002, the market takes EBT food stamp cards, which are exchanged for “wooden dollars” that customers can use. In addition, many of the vendors accept Women, Infants and Children (WIC) coupons — federal service for low-income women who are pregnant or have young children.

Shoppers at the market can find a range of produce — from squash and apples to tomatoes. Steve Schultz, who operates a farm called Gleeson Acres, has a particular passion for tomatoes, which he sold at the market.

Schultz grew up in Dalton, Ohio, where gardening with his grandfather made him want to grow produce. Eventually, he convinced his family to let him cultivate vegetables in his own small plot of the yard.

Schultz works primarily in management. Growing tomatoes, peppers, beans, sweet corn and other vegetables on three and a half acres of the 43-acre farm he owns with his sons is a summer job. “It originally started when I wanted to feed myself healthy food,” he said.

Although Green Acres is not a certified organic establishment, Schultz is proud that he and his sons do not use chemically based pesticides, along with a few other vendors. He also composts and uses chicken manure as his primary fertilizer, all decisions Schultz believes make his produce more nutritious and unique-tasting.

One stand is distinct from the fresh fruit and vegetables at the market. Towards the end of the canopies, a spread of colorful blossoms dots a table. Nathaniel McFadden, whose farm is in Perrysville, Ohio just outside the Mohican Forest, began growing flowers as a child, when gardening was his assigned chore. “There’s just something about [flowers] that I love and always have even as a kid,” McFadden said. “Hearing all the positive feedback from passersby is always encouraging, and knowing that they are lighting up people’s houses and lives makes it worth it.”

In addition to farmers like Spray, Schultz and McFadden, several Amish vendors sell goods — such as apples and potatoes — at the market and accept cash only. According to Spray, a recent study estimated that the farmers market contributes 30-40 thousand dollars to the local economy every year. Its central location has made the market a landmark of the area, attracting local residents and college students alike. “I think my favorite part about the farmer’s market was talking to the vendors … about what they do and a little bit about their stories,” Julia Cullen ’21 said. “I feel like the vendors were very homey and hospitable.”

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