Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Downtown Farmers’ Market in Bowling Green: An Ethnography for Dr. Lucy Long’s Culinary Tourism Workshop

I’ve been craving a Farmers’ Market in Downtown Bowling Green ever since FD and I moved here. Having a market where fresh, local vegetables and fruits—in addition to homemade breads, cookies, and fine arts—are available in the center of town signifies our community stands together for good food and that good food is available to almost everyone in the town. (I understand there are some who unfortunately don’t have access to vehicles to get downtown or who are unable to walk downtown, but for the most part, a central location does unite the community.)

With the help of a committed, motivated committee and the support of Downtown Bowling Green Businesses, such as Huntington Bank and Grounds for Thought, and after heavy advertising at the Foodways Convention, in Downtown store windows, and at community workshops, The Downtown Farmers’ Market in Bowling Green is open for business Wednesdays 3-8 p.m. from May 12-October 27 in the SamB’s parking lot on Main Street. Vendors can reserve a spot for $300 the whole season or $150 a half season.

Mid-week seems like a perfect time to have the Market because most community members in our university town are around during the week and ready to buy something they can cook at home. Also, the times—from 3-8 p.m.—are great for those who start work late or who leave work at 5. The hours accommodate almost any work schedule, no matter the job’s hours, which, in my opinion, seems quite inclusive.

Across the street from Grounds for Thought and next to The Flower Basket, the Market is cozy in a small parking lot, but spacious enough to hold about 12 vendors. The mural on The Flower Basket’s outside wall creates a warm ambiance that shows an appreciation for art in the community as well as a nostalgia for “the past” Bowling Green.

Having a Market that supported by local Downtown businesses exemplifies that as a community we want money to stay within our community, which, to me, is smart thinking. If I walk downtown to Farmers’ Market, I’m more apt to stop into Grounds and get a tea, drop by Calico, Sage, and Thyme and pick up Father’s Day cards, or pop by Happy Badger for a quart of skim milk. And if a community member isn’t deliberately going downtown for the Market, I have a hunch that all the signs, traffic cones, vendor tents, and crowds of people by the vendors would make any passer-by curious and want to stop by.

And the fact that we can walk or ride our bikes means we can be eco-friendly, save gas, save gas money, and get even more exercise to be healthy. Clearly, this benefits the earth and us, as community.

Rain drizzled on and off the opening day of the market, which was yesterday. But the puddles and thick raindrops didn’t deter the community. Many folks strolled Downtown in their Wellies and under their colorful golf umbrellas to show their support.

One of my favorite aspects of the Market was seeing friends and neighbors, colleagues, and familiar vendors. My friend DHS waved as she jogged across the crosswalk with her son. I waved at a colleague from my Service-Learning Community as she sniffed the basil at the Calico, Sage, and Thyme table. And I stopped and chatted with gal at the Calico, Sage, and Thyme who I’ve gotten to know during my frequent stops in at the shop to peruse new cards and gifts. She said that even though it was raining the market was clearly a success. She told me that Barbara O'Brien, the Pie (p) Lady, sold out of her pies in the first half hour and Riehm Farms sold out of asparagus in an hour.

I was disappointed about the asparagus being sold out. I had plans for asparagus soup and a salad with asparagus this week. (I go overboard when it’s in-season because its season is so short—about one month. Thank God for Homestead Gardens who delivers fresh, organic produce to our house!) However, I did buy Edamame and a head of Red Leaf Lettuce from Riehm Farms for a total of $4.75, which was to me a steal compared to the prices of the Perrysburg Farmers’ Market where a head of lettuce is $4.75. (I wonder if that has to do with the different populations between Perrysburg and Bowling Green. Bowling Green has many more college students and middle-class folks whereas Perrysburg has many more upper-middle class folks.)

The cool thing about Riehm Farms is they offer organic produce at the Farmers’ Market AND they have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in which members can buy a “share” of the farm and get a bag of 10-12 different kinds of produce each week that they can pick up at the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Bowling Green. What’s unique about Riehm is that they have a vegetable and fruit share where most CSA’s only have a vegetable share. Also, I appreciated how Mr. Riehm answered questions about his produce without any hesitation and clearly cared about his product and how consumers received it.

(The lettuce from Riehm Farms I had today was exceptional: crisp, flavorful, and completely free of any risk of E.Coli.)

FD and I also really enjoyed talking with the English Gardner who has exceptional fresh herbs and AWESOME eggplants later in the season as well as Forshee Farms who bought a non-working farm and are working to make it an operational farm again. Wanda Forshee’s baked goods—peanut clusters, chocolate bars, and cookies—are affordable and tasty. A cookie and chocolate bar were $1.25 total. I’m excited to get to know them better and find out more about their local meats.

Bella Cuisine, which is owned and operated by Chefs Tom and Linda Lambert who were classically trained at The Culinary Institute of America and Istiuto Sueriore di Gastronomia in Italy, is another treasure at the Market. They offer homemade breads, ranging from wheat to foccia to baguettes to gluten-free, as well as muffins, scones, and cakes. The couple offers catering services and private cooking classes. Their focus is on Mediterranean cooking but also baking and pastry.

Linda Lambert is most excited about Bella Cuisine’s cooking classes: “We do cooking classes from our home [between Sandusky and Fremont]. We call it the Mediterranean Kitchen. We go to our gardens, we get fresh food, and we prepare it. And we all eat together European style.” I’m definitely going to sign up for one of these classes this summer!

The Market also hosted magician Brendan Coleman and local quartet The Root Cellar String Band (a band my Culinary Tourism instructor, Dr. Lucy Long performs with. Go, Lucy!) Both drew families and passer-bys to the market, which was positive, and created a welcoming, friendly, and artsy atmosphere.

Overall, based on the turnout, despite the rain, the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Bowling Green was a HUGE success, and it’s only going to get stronger. This is a market that cares about the products—everything was produced in Ohio, without any of the bulk products that are now seen at Farmers’ Markets. Having a Farmers’ Market means citizens of Bowling Green can cut down on Food Miles and begin to participate in a 100-mile diet. Finally, the Market brings together diverse peoples, which only strengthens community bonds and renegotiates constructed ideas of class, race, and culture.

I’m ecstatic about the Market, and will continue to support it, weekly. And my hope is that many other community members will too.

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