For regular visitors to our region's top farmers markets, the richness of product that awaits is no surprise. At producers-only markets like North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square, Chagrin Falls and Crocker Park, the weekly gathering of local vendors covers a lot of ground, from farm-fresh produce, handmade cheeses and grass-fed beef to fresh-cut flowers and prepared foods ready to eat.
We rounded up a few of our favorites.
For many, the growing season officially begins when Tom and Sue Woodworth of Middle Ridge Gardens set up for their big annual plant sale at Shaker Square. Racks and racks of plants are unloaded from trucks and set up near the end of Westbound Shaker Boulevard. In addition to a wide array of annuals, perennials and vegetable seedlings, the Woodworths offer a wide selection of potted plants and hanging baskets.
Out west at Crocker Park, Hansen Greenhouse of Olmsted Falls offers an equally impressive selection of vegetable seedlings, potted herbs and annual and perennial flowers. But come fall, the greenhouse stocks one of the largest selections of garlic varietals around, just in time for the annual autumn planting.
Every year, the Cleveland Botanical Garden-run Green Corps employs and educates dozens of Cleveland area teens to work at one of six urban learning farms. The beaming-proud students sell their fresh, organic produce (and now-famous Ripe from Downtown Salsa) at farmers' markets in Tremont, Shaker and downtown.
Amish farmers are the true workhorses of the market system, cultivating a broad and deep selection of fruits and vegetables. The best of the bunch is Weaver's Truck Patch from Eli and Irvin Miller, who split up so they can appear simultaneously on opposite side of town at Crocker and Shaker Square. Greenhouses kept warm with wood-burning stoves extend the growing season both early and late.
Yellow House farm in Seville, Ohio, is known for its pasture-raised lamb, chicken and pork. But the cheese coming out of this small-scale creamery quickly is eclipsing the other products, landing in fine restaurants all over NEO. All of the cheeses are handmade from raw cow's or sheep's milk and aged for at least 60 days. Try the award-winning sheep's milk blue cheese or the signature farmstead.
Cleveland's own Lake Erie Creamery can be found every other week at Shaker Square and every week at Crocker Park. The small-batch cheeses are made from local goat and cow milk, and products include bucheron, wine-soaked feta, and the popular Lake Erie Pearls, hand-rolled chevre rounds in rosemary olive oil.
Why buy cream cheese from Philadelphia when you could top your bialy with preservative-free cream cheese made using local, grass-fed cows' milk? That's what twin sisters Rachel and Sarah Gross from Clover Road Cream Cheese do. Stop by Crocker and Shaker to pick up any of their eight signature flavors, including traditional, dilly ranch, and Parmesan truffle.
It's What's for Dinner
If you see a line snaking out from one of the stands at Crocker, chances are good it leads to Bluebird Meadows. Folks load up on Chris and Julie Blankenship's pasture-raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, lamb, duck and chicken, but it's the pork and pork products that cause a ruckus. Pick up some bacon, hickory-smoked ham or one of the nearly dozen varieties of bratwurst.
At Millgate Farm, Tod Mogren is doing all the right things when it comes to raising his beef and pork. He starts with Berkshire pigs and Maine-Anjou cattle and allows them to graze the fields and forage in the woods, none of which is poisoned by herbicides or pesticides. Of course, his animals are free of antibiotics, growth hormones and byproducts.
In addition to seasonal produce, lamb, maple syrup and cut flowers, Kevin and Sarah Swope of Heritage Lane Farms specialize in bison. Touted as "the healthier red meat," bison is higher in protein and lower in fat and calories than beef. The Swopes sell the meat as steaks, burgers and roasts.
For Here or To Go
Wood-burning ovens aren't like microwave ovens: They don't travel well. Don't tell George Goodman that. For five years he's been lugging around his wood-fired pizza oven to farmers' markets, seasonal events, and backyards everywhere. In Forno's Neapolitan-style pies are a weekly hit at Crocker Park, where farm-fresh local ingredients find their way atop Goodman's svelte pies.
If you've been to La Campagna in Westlake, then you already know about the love and care that the Fragassi family puts into every plate. That same attention is on weekly display at Shaker Square, where they dish up breakfast sandwiches, vegetable pancakes and piadinas, stuffed Italian flatbreads.
There's more to the farmers' market than cooking ingredients —like breakfast! The breakfast burritos from Spice of Life have been a staple at Shaker Square since 2006. Folks make a beeline for the newborn-size bundles crammed with chorizo, eggs, hash browns, cilantro and salsa. Don't forget to ask for extra hot sauce.