Home Winter boots More farmers’ markets? The campaign against money problems

More farmers’ markets? The campaign against money problems

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PENINSULA, Ohio — For nearly 25 years, Countryside has hosted farmers markets in northeast Ohio, as one of the agency’s programs that provides locally grown food while supporting farmers in Ohio.

Now the nonprofit is struggling to the point of canceling contracts and cutting programs, some of which have been ongoing for years.

The agency’s financial struggles can be traced to the pandemic, even though Countryside has kept its markets running, adding orders and curbside pickups to its year-round market during the peak of the lockdown.

“There’s this feeling that things are picking up, but this is the year where we financially pay the piper for these two years,” Countryside manager Ginnette Simko said. “I would say that’s the worst he’s ever been.”


What do you want to know

  • The campaign is struggling due to the pandemic and is cutting popular programs
  • Countryside recently launched its annual Harvest campaign
  • Agency needs help to keep Howe Meadow Farmers’ Market going through the season
  • The Old Trail School Winter Farmers Market may not be held this year

Many people have reprioritized their donations during the pandemic, so contributions have plummeted, she said. Market attendance plummeted due to fears of community spread.

This added to Countryside’s already lean staff which saw 100% turnover, she said.

“The people who were there at the end were very spread out, so I think it was just kind of a perfect storm situation,” Simko said.

Countryside recently launched its annual Harvest campaign, aiming to raise $250,000. Of the total goal, $75,000 would help Countryside’s Howe Meadow Farmers’ Market get through the rest of the season, Simko said.

Countryside’s oldest and most thriving market, Howe Meadow Market is a Saturday morning staple for those who come to the National Park to buy produce, meat, cheese, pastries, condiments and handcrafted household items.

In early August, Howe Meadow Market saw 2,600 attendees, Simko said. Farmers who supply this market rely on sales during their peak season, from July to October, to sustain their operations throughout the year.

“It’s a terrible time to be in a financial crisis,” she said. “So we can’t leave them hanging. This is our push right now.

Farmers’ markets are vital because of the health value of buying food locally, Simko said. Food loses its nutrients as it loses its freshness by being shipped over long distances.

In addition, many hands touch produce grown on the West Coast or in another country.

Howe Meadow Farmers Market, Countryside’s oldest market, is a Saturday morning staple for many. (Photo courtesy of Campaign)

“If you shop directly at a farm, it will go directly from the farmer to you and very few people will touch that food,” she said.

The supply chain also increases costs.

“Every piece of that chain costs money, and it also costs fossil fuel money at this point,” she said. “So you eliminate all of that by buying local.”

The rest of the funds raised by the Harvest campaign will help retain staff so the agency can write grants and raise funds to move into 2023 on stable ground, she said.

In addition to fundraising, Countryside is trying to mitigate losses by writing grants and working to establish new partnerships, she said.

“There’s just a lot in the air,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of answers and we probably won’t get any until mid-September or late September.”

Among Countryside’s currently discontinued programs is the New Farmer Academy, which offered aspiring farmers on-the-job training on farms in and around the national park to learn how to run their own successful farming businesses.

The agency also withdrew from its role overseeing food assistance programs in several northeast counties for Produce Perks Midwest, a program for families using SNAP, formerly food stamps, which doubles dollars when they are spent on healthy food in markets, she said.

Countryside’s participation in the Barberton Farmers’ Market has also been reduced, and a decision has yet to be made on whether the Old Trail School Winter Farmers’ Market will continue this year. Normally held on Saturdays from November to April, the winter market has been very busy for the past five years.

Countryside launched its first Farmer’s Market in 2004 in Howe Meadow, and in 2009 began accepting food aid programs at markets, eventually creating Carrot Cash, its own nutrition incentive program.

The campaign’s push to “eat local” has grown steadily ever since. To learn more about the organization, visit the Countryside website.