Communities struggle with farmers markets

Wauseon, Archbold markets open

By David J. Coehrs -

Community-based farmers markets in Fulton County have dwindled this summer due to a struggle to keep interested vendors.

The Village of Delta hasn’t run a farmers market the since 2015, and won’t have one this summer. Attempts by both the village and its Chamber of Commerce failed.

“It was just a lack of support,” said Bob Gilbert, a resident who last operated the market. “The vendors weren’t getting enough business to generate their being there. The vendors were good. There just wasn’t a draw. They were disappointed, and so was I.”

The former farmers market averaged four to 10 vendors, but product variety was lacking. When the market was clearly failing the dedicated vendors wouldn’t return.

“There are a lot of different places that have farmers markets. We didn’t have the variety of stuff that other markets have,” Gilbert said.

He said relocating the market to Main Street and advertising it with signage didn’t help. He said not even the heavy traffic on Airport Highway could save the market.

“Even with advertising, people weren’t supporting it like they could or should,” Gilbert said.

Donna Puehler, who started the village’s farmers market several years ago, was also disappointed by its demise. She said the vendors simply wouldn’t stay.

“Some people thought they would get rich overnight. That doesn’t happen. You have to build a clientele,” she said.

The Swanton Area Farmers Market, started in 2010 by the village mayor, the late James Bushong, also went under, in 2016. Swanton Area Chamber of Commerce President Neil Toeppe said area competition was too great.

“It did well in springtime with flowers, and some folks with homemade goodies, but there wasn’t enough business to sustain the market,” he said. “People have many more farmers market-type options in the Swanton area.”

He named Loch Greenhouse, Sadowski’s Produce, Keil’s Produce and Greenhouse, and Johnston’s Fruit Farms, as well as roadside mini-markets.

Toeppe said Bushong’s goal was to reintroduce an old-fashioned, family-friendly market to the village. Originally located off of Main Street, it was moved to Airport Highway for greater exposure. Unfortunately, relocation didn’t work.

“As so many people do, he hearkened back to the old days, and wanted to revive nice things of the past,” Toeppe said. “(But) there are lots of options for folks in the area. The time for a farmers market has passed with the competition in the area.”

One that does remain is the Wauseon Farmers Market, open each Saturday between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Fulton Street from June to October. Sponsored by the Wauseon Downtown Association, it can play host to up to 20 vendors depending on the season. Space is rented for $5 per Saturday or $50 for the season.

“It’s not just vegetables and fruits. There are lots of different kinds of crafts, just a large variety sold at our market,” WDA President Jim Kerr said.

The produce is all locally grown, and customers appreciate the organic nature of the food, Kerr said. “Shoppers are becoming more savvy concerning the chemicals and other pesticides used in growing large, industrialized crops.”

There are also vendors selling goat cheese, jewelry, and woven and wood crafts, “the kinds of exhibits you might find at a craft fair,” he said. The market is currently looking into selling wine.

And to keep shoppers interested, the farmers market hosts special events during the season. A salsa challenge is held during summer months, and a pumpkin carving competition in October. A Strawberry Festival is scheduled for June 17.

Kerr said the market’s theme is health, and “it’s just a very healthy aspect to our community. It’s building community; that’s what it’s there for.”

Not only does its Fulton Street location draw more people to downtown businesses, it supports local farmers and gardens, he said.

“It encourages people to be part of local crafting, so all the money stays here,” Kerr said.

The eight-year-old Archbold Area Farmers Market hosts vendors from within a 30-mile radius of the village – growers from smaller towns and farms. Each week, between five and eight vendors sell home-grown organic and hydroponic fruits and vegetables and other homemade items.

They also sell honey from a local farm, herb and vegetable plants, and all-natural soap, “anything that sets (the market) apart,” said Ann Kahrs, a vendor and Farmers Market committee member. “We’re always trying new things. We’ll try anything once.”

Space is inexpensive at $10 per week or $50 for the entire season. Previously located in downtown Archbold, where shoppers faced problems with parking, the market has flourished since being moved to a Sauder Village parking lot west of the Doughbox Bakery.

“(Downtown) slowed it down some, and it was a little more challenging for some folks. That’s when we decided we needed to make a change,” Kahrs said.

Open Thursdays from 3-6 p.m., the Archbold Area Farmers Market was begun by the village Chamber of Commerce which eventually withdrew, allowing the main vendors to take over operations.

A main goal of the market is to educate shoppers on how the food is raised and how to prepare it.

“A lot of folks have shown an interest in buying local” rather than at grocery store, where they’re unsure where the food originates, Kahrs said. “More people are wanting to know where their food comes from.”

Gilbert said if he had a list of vendors willing to commit, he’d revive a Delta Farmers Market in an instant.

“I’d do it next year,” he said.

Wauseon, Archbold markets open

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.