I adore peaches, but I’m the opposite of a morning person. By the time I drag myself out of bed and make it to the farmers markets, the early-risers already have exhausted the farmers’ supply of juicy-ripe tree fruit. This is the case despite the fact that my local market, North Union at Shaker Square, is a modest two-mile trip from home. This scenario is amplified with each additional mile, which explains why I never manage to visit Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow, located in Peninsula.
In terms of silver-lining permutations, the advent of online pre-ordering at farmers’ markets like Howe has turned out to be a win-win for shoppers and farmers alike. Earlier this year, the market implemented the system to facilitate curbside pickup back when in-person shopping was taboo. Now that regular walk-up business has returned (albeit with Covid modifications), the pre-order system remains.
While that convenience feature surely helps night owls like me secure the bounty we desire, it also makes life easier for the farmers, explains Serena Jones, market manager.
“What’s really helped the farmers here is the online ordering, because then they are able to have a set of orders before market day even begins,” she says. “And by ordering ahead you can make sure that you can get what you want; you don’t have to get here at 9 a.m. to get the things that normally sell out.”
Morning, noon or night, the drive to Howe Meadow is as picturesque as they come. Countryside Farmers’ Market is just one of two such markets in the nation that is located within the confines of a National Park. The drive consists of winding two-lane roads threading through the dense Cuyahoga Valley forest. At journey’s end, shoppers find themselves in a vast meadow with lush green grass that is ringed by trees.
This year will look a little different to faithful shoppers. The vendors are more spaced apart, there are directional signs for arrivals and departures, products are handed over in single-use plastic bags, and there are the now-common sanitation stations at the ready. And don’t you dare try and sample the goods.
I’m a gardener, so I am giddily swimming in fat, ripe tomatoes, never-ending cucumbers and more green beans than Mason jar space. What I’m in the market for are those seasonal items that are out of my reach: sweet corn, tart-sweet berries, just-dug potatoes, leafy celery, shiny red onions, glossy eggplant, yardstick-long leeks and those heavenly, fragrant peaches.
Countryside is a true “producers-only” market, meaning that everything is grown, raised and/or reared within about 70 miles of the meadow. In addition to seasonal produce, there is meat like poultry, beef, lamb, bison, pork and goat. Shoppers will also find honey and maple syrup, alongside “value-added” products like jerky, baked goods, pasta, jams, jellies and fresh-cut flowers. Typically, there are 38 vendors who make the trek.
It’s an atypical year – to say the least! – at the market, but attendance is bouncing back, sales are robust and habits are starting to shift and gel.
“We’re seeing an interesting trend where our overall customer counts are down, and overall sales are down, but the average vendor sales and average customer spends are up a lot,” reports Jones. “That’s a trend that is happening nationally at farmers’ markets.”
Today is the last day of August. Evening temperatures are flirting with the mid-50s. And many migrating birds are setting off on their southerly voyages. But don’t think for one second that farmers’ market season is over or even nearing its chilly demise.
“There is a ton of stuff that we’re still very excited about,” says Jones. “Melon, squash, corn, tomatoes and berries. It’s still totally bountiful.”
Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow (4040 Riverview Rd.), a non-profit partner of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, runs through October 31, plenty of time to secure those Halloween pumpkins.
For more info and to access the online ordering system click here