ST. CLAIRSVILLE-"People have gotten so far removed from the farm. One reason we continue to do this is to educate people about where their food comes from," says Lova Ebbert, owner of Ebbert Farm Market in St. Clairsville. She also acknowledges loving the interaction and social connections with her customers. "It's so wonderful to open the doors and see people from last year coming in. It becomes almost like a big family."
Susan West, director of the Ohio Valley Farmers Market, agrees that the people connections are important to the farmers. "Being a vendor at a farmers market requires a passion for what you do. I think our vendors love to meet their customers face-to-face. They get to share that passion!"
The farm markets are where education, fun and people connections meet. In the case of the Ohio Valley Farmers Market it's hosting their fourth annual "Big Green Event" at the market in Bellaire tomorrow from 9 a.m. to noon. JB Green Team's mascots, Jef and Bel, will be handing out information on recycling; Butterflies from Heather will feature a walk-in butterfly tent; Chef Gene Evans from West Virginia Northern Community College will be cooking up sample dishes using the produce available at the market. "We try to make a trip to our market a social experience especially for children. We want them to have fun memories of going to the market in order to instill a desire for them to continue the habit as adults," explains West.
Farmers markets are becoming more popular throughout the United States. Local farmers sell their wares at the Ohio Valley Farmers Market in Bellaire, pictured, and St. Clairsville.
Ebbert Farm Market holds an "Agri-Days" event the second week of October. School children and families can experience various aspects of life on a farm: growing vegetables, shearing sheep and meeting other area farmers. Ebbert's was started in 1919 and is now farmed by the third generation, Jerry and Lova, with 40 acres of corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, peppers and other vegetables planted and picked by hand.
Today, according to the US Department of Agriculture, there is a visible rise in the number of farmers markets. In 1994 there were 1755 known farmers markets in the United States. The number tripled by 2009 to 5274. Their website currently lists 7175, an increase of yet another 26 percent. There are more than 90 farmers markets and hundreds of farm stands or farm markets in Ohio, opportunities to buy fresh every day of the week during the summer season.
Much of the increase is attributed to the movement to buy local and eat organic. But benefits of shopping locally not only include meeting the grower and purchasing fresh food, but knowing that the dollars spent will stay in the local economy and support farmers within a few miles of home. Many smaller farms also try to practice environmentally responsible farming, treating the land, the plants and the wildlife with respect.
The products of large scale industrial agriculture, sold at commercial grocery stores, rely on wide-spread use of pesticides and genetically altered seeds-the effects of which are not fully known.
In post-agrarian society and pre-refrigeration, markets were a necessary and integral part of daily life. Farmers brought their harvest of the day to non-farming families in growing villages. The Industrial Revolution brought machinery to the farm, making it possible to grow more produce and take it farther away to city populations. Modern grocery stores make shopping more convenient and provide more exotic options throughout the seasons, but they can't offer the fresh taste of a juicy peach picked just before the market opens or the camaraderie of talking about harvest and the history of the orchard with the farmer.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.