Fresh food, free education

Winter farmers market connects
shoppers with local growers

By Jennifer Willhite

»When Sande Hummel launched the Columbus City Winter Farmers Market in Fair Oaks Mall last year, she didn’t anticipate how well it would be received by the public.

Offering Columbus-area residents the opportunity to buy local meat and produce during the winter months is just one aspect. Educating the public about healthy eating and the importance of buying local is another essential element, she says.

“I just wanted to carry over healthy eating into the winter season,” Hummel says. “I knew farmers with greenhouses and high tunnels from who I knew we could get cold crops.”

The winter farmers market, open from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays, is designed to offer a place to purchase farm-to-table-fresh produce and meats, including mixed lettuces, Swiss chard, kale, pork, chicken and grass-fed beef. Now in its second year, Hummel says it offers customers more selection since the farmers had the chance to start planting in August.

“But you have to keep in mind for this time of year, when temperatures go down, growing slows down,” Hummel says. “So there may be a few weeks where there is less in abundance.”

Unlike shopping at traditional groceries, attending the market allows customers to speak directly to the farmer, Hummel says.

“Talking to the farmer is the key of education for the public,” she says. “I feel so strongly that there should be videos on healthy eating, farm demonstrations and farmers markets in doctors’ offices. Why are health care costs going up? People do not eat right. Everything is a trickledown effect.”

Hummel, who is the owner and manager, says the market, which begins the first Saturday in December, averages 15 to 20 vendors who offer a variety of farm-fresh products in addition to specialty chocolates, coffees and high-end crafts made by local artisans.

“I have home-based bakers who all sell something different so they aren’t competing,” she says. “I am happy for the people I have there that everything is being purchased.”

As with any specialty market, foot traffic and crowds are dependent on weather conditions. During the holiday season, traffic averages up to 400 each weekend and goes back down to an estimated 150 to 200 during the remainder of the season, which runs through the third week of April.

“We have consistent regulars who just love to come to the winter market,” Hummel says. “The importance of the market is that you can get more local, healthy food that isn’t handled by 29 people, coughed and sneezed on. It is gathered by one or two people, washed and cared for, brought to the market, and you come choose it.”

Growing the market not only brings more traffic into the mall, but it also builds community and awareness about the importance of healthy eating and supporting local businesses.

Mackenzey Shatto, of Poseys and Pumpkins in North Vernon, says she has participated in the winter market since its inception. As a matter of fact, she was the one who originally pitched the idea, she says.

“I thought Columbus needed a winter market because after the spring and summer markets, there wasn’t anything for the customers in Columbus to go to,” Shatto says. “I threw the idea out there, and she [Hummel] went for it.”

Shatto’s family business, which launched in 1998, offers a variety of greens, such as kale, lettuce and spinach, as well as many other vegetables during the winter season. Customers may also purchase meats, including lamb, chicken and pork, and eggs.

Like Hummel, Shatto sees the importance of community and supporting local farming. For her, participating in the Columbus area markets is a way to build rapport with customers and help familiarize them with why it is so significant to buy locally. Doing so offers customers the chance to actually get to know where their food comes from and the farmers who grew and raised it, she says.

Seymour resident Jon Claycamp says he discovered the winter market via word-of-mouth last summer. Seeking a place to sell his dairy products during the off season while he works to launch a small farm store at his Lot Hill Dairy Farm, Claycamp took advantage of the opportunity to grow his customer base in Columbus.

“I am surprised with the foot traffic,” he says. “I am not sure if we are helping the mall out or if the mall is helping us.”

Primarily specializing in cheese and butter, Claycamp says buying locally is important to not only the farmer, but to the community as well.

“When you buy local, you can come to my farm, check it out and if you have questions just ask,” he says. “I think the local label is more important than the organic label. It is just a matter of educating people.”