Square deal for Warren

WARREN – City folk and country folk came together Friday on Courthouse Square for the first of six farmer’s markets.

The event gives area farmers a chance to sell their locally grown produce and encourages residents to eat fresh foods grown in the Mahoning Valley while also boosting the local economy.

The event is organized by the Lake-to-River Food Cooperative and sponsored by St. Joseph Health Center, in collaboration with Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. the third Friday of each month.

“Things are picked right at their peak of freshness and flavor, and they’re delicious and healthy. It’s important for the farmers to have an opportunity to sell their product to customers. Locally, it keeps the money right here in our own community,” said Melissa Miller, marketing manager for the Lake-to-River Food Cooperative.

The market also participates in Humility of Mary Health Partners’ Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Project.

Bridget Lackey, HMHP, community health educator and dietitian, said the program was initiated with the help of a $20,000 grant from Catholic Healthcare Partners and provides people with vouchers each month to purchase $20 in produce.

More than 150 people – including 50 Warren residents – currently use the program, Lackey said.

“The physician determines whether integrating fruits and vegetables would benefit that patient,” she said, such as those with health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The market also accepts SNAP cards and Ohio Agency on Aging food vouchers.

“Increasing fruits and vegetables, buying local, is a win-win for everybody,” Lackey said. “The interaction, too, for people to be able to talk to the person who’s grown it, see how it’s been grown.”

Lackey said consuming fresh versus processed food is better.

“We usually pick the night before or the morning of. Today, we picked the morning of,” said Natalie Shipula of Shipula Farms in Jamestown, Pa.

In the first hour of its first day at Courthouse Square, Miller was pleased with the turnout.

“There’s been a great response. I think this is a good turnout for our first day,” she said, adding that there were 15 local vendors set up for the event.

Sheila Calko, with Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, said more and more produce will be available as the markets continue.

“I think it’s been successful for early season market. As the season progresses, we will have more produce available. That’s why you see a lot of plants today,” she said.

Chris and Bruce Vance, owners of Field Fresh Farms in Jefferson, said many of their crops weren’t ready because it is too early in the season.

“We’re primarily vegetable produce, so our crops aren’t ready to harvest. Typically, you put your plants and seed in Memorial weekend,” Chris Vance explained.

In late June, the early season crops such as peas, radishes, turnips and spinach, will be ready. After that, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, string beans and some potatoes can be harvested, they said.

“The latter part of the season you get Brussells sprouts, potatoes, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, that type of thing,” Chris Vance said.

The Vances waited a little longer to finish planting, which was fortunate since a late frost killed their sweet potato plants. But the weather in recent weeks has helped their crops.

“The rain, the high temperatures, warming the soil up, is giving a boost to the plants,” Chris Vance said.

Nathan Perry, project manager for Earth Angel Farm, said the season is off to a very good start, which is helping to keep prices down.

He the market helps to put a little bit of money in his pocket, since his activity is restricted due to having epilepsy.

“I’m not allowed to drive, I’m not allowed to ride a bike,” he explained. “My mom and my grandparents always had a garden. The only thing I don’t like is weeding,” he said with a laugh.

Based in Warren, the nonprofit Earth Angel Farm helps people with physical and developmental disabilities and those underserved in the community by offering employment, education and socialization in agricultural settings or agricultural-related settings.

Mary Ellen Pilgrim of Warren said she goes to markets whenever she gets a chance, and came to the Farmer’s Market to look for some fresh rhubarb.

“Nothing tastes as good as fresh products. I like to have home-grown produce. Everything tastes so much better off the tree or out of the garden,” she said.

Amanda Edwards of Warren came in search of herbs. She found sweet and Thai basil plants as well as mint at Perry’s stand.

“I like it because I’m getting just what I wanted. I don’t have to look around,” she said.

For more information on the farmer’s market, email info@laketoriver.org or call Miller at 330-360-0648.