Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
By Michaela Oldfield, Director, Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council
The Enquirer’s recent profile of area farmers markets is a helpful guide to where and when people can buy locally grown produce and other fare. We’d like to add a little bit about why farmers markets are an important component of the local food scene and some important context about their role in feeding our region.
Farmers markets saw record numbers and sales last year, a trend that’s continued into 2021. This is obviously a welcome development, but as with so many other industries, the increased interest is also posing some challenges. Farms may not have enough product, given vagaries in weather and other factors. Meat has been particularly difficult. With consumer demand surging, a preexisting bottleneck in meat processing has worsened, with slaughterhouses booked out through 2022.
Consumers can help farms buffer against variable demand by buying Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, which allow consumers to invest in a farm at the beginning of the season and receive a box of the product the farm produces each week. It also helps when shoppers come to the market with an open mind and a willingness to try what’s available, rather than having a set list of items to purchase. This approach can also lead to new discoveries, as you can always find recipes for whatever unusual vegetable you might pick up. We highly recommend starting with Edible Ohio Valley, which is a regional publication that offers great stories and recipes on what's local and in season.
In addition to farmers markets, resources like Local Food Connection also allow consumers to tap into local farmers and their products. Local Food Connection is a Cincinnati-based food hub that aggregates from small farms and makes their offerings conveniently available to institutions and restaurants. As restaurants reopen and ramp up their offerings, seeking out and eating at businesses that support small, local farmers is an additional boost to our local economy, as dollars stay here instead of being funneled elsewhere. Prioritizing locally grown food also yields more nutritious offerings and decreases the carbon footprint of our meals.
It is not just home-cooked and restaurant meals that benefit from a local approach to food purchasing. Parents of Cincinnati Public Schools students are supporting the local food system because the district is a statewide leader in buying food from local farmers. CPS is also a national leader through their adoption of the Good Food Purchasing Program, which directs some of the district’s multi-million dollar food budget back into the regional economy, creating jobs that stay in the community, promoting humane farming and using healthy local food in cafeterias.
Farmers markets, with their artisanal bread and organic eggs, have a reputation for luxury and affluence, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Markets throughout the region reflect their communities, with many working to expand access to all residents, no matter what their income level is. Organizations like Produce Perks Midwest also run programs that subsidize farmers market purchases for low income consumers, helping consumers’ dollars go even further when they shop local.
At the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council, we’re committed to expanding access to local foods for everyone in the region. The Enquirer’s listing of farmers markets is an important guide, and resources like the Central Ohio River Valley Food Guide and Edible Ohio Valley also provide extensive information on where to shop for food locally, from CSAs and farmers markets to restaurants that prioritize local ingredients. It’s an exciting time to be part of the regional food scene, and there’s no better time than the height of this growing season to take advantage of all our local farmers have to offer.
Michaela Oldfield is director of the Greater Cincinnati Local Food Policy Council.