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Farmers and shoppers unite to create a year-round market for local food.
Established in 2009 Local Roots is approaching $1 million in gross receipts and starting to turn a profit.
by WKSU's VIVIAN GOODMAN
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter
Vivian Goodman
 
Jessica Eikleberry is the market manager. For a long while she was the only paid employee. Now there are four.
Courtesy of Vivian Goodman
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In The Region:
In a college town surrounded by small family farms a group of volunteers has created a new kind of grocery store. More than a co-op or a farmers’ market, Wooster’s Local Roots Market and Cafe is a supermarket of farm-fresh local foods open six days a week, year-round. And it’s become a touchstone of the community.
shopping for the bounty that surrounds them

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Quick Bites samples a yogurt dip that could become a new product launched at the market.


Quick Bites samples a yogurt dip that could become a new product launched at the market.

Jane Anderson lives on a farm south of Wooster and loves the black bean chili at the Local Roots Cafe.


Jane Anderson lives on a farm south of Wooster and loves the black bean chili at the Local Roots Cafe.

(Click image for larger view.)

When their Mom takes them to Local Roots, 9 year-old Henry Gamble knows exactly what he wants.

 “The muffins. There’s a lot of fresh stuff in it.”

There’s produce, dairy, meat and more at Local Roots. But unlike at a farmers’ market, the farmer doesn’t have to be there to make the sale.

That’s a big help to Karen Geiser. She raises grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, goats, greens and herbs on her farm in Kidron.

 “We have 5 children so I’m needed back on the farm, but it’s pleasant to be able to come here and meet with some of the other farmers, stay as long as I want, or if I just need to drop off and run then that fits in.” 

Bar codes like a regular grocery store

Items are stamped with bar codes so they can be swiped at a central checkout, and farmers receive 90 percent of the gross receipts. Operating costs are low. Until recently there was only one paid employee.

April Gamble also shops for art and pottery at the big store on Wooster’s South Walnut Street, but the main draw is local produce, picked at the peak of flavor.

“For the children’s health and also for them to see how vibrant the agricultural community is around here. It’s a fun place to go. We see friends from school or friends from the neighborhood. It’s a community place, it really is. “

Created by farmers and shoppers

It was founded in 2009 by Betsy Anderson and 11 other community members. 

 “A very diverse group. About half are small farmers/large gardeners, the other half really wanted a source of local product year-round, not just at the summer farmers’ market.”

And they wanted to support their neighbors whose small farms adorn the rolling hills of Wayne County. Like Monica Bongay’s place. She’s originally from Columbia, a painter, a biochemist, and a grower of vegetables.

 “Everything from asparagus to zucchini. Our farm Marifork Farm is about ten minutes away from here. It’s not hard to pop in here two or three times a week to deliver produce. There’s really no other retail store where we can sell our stuff so easily. It’s very hard to get into the other established grocery stores because they don’t want to deal with us little people.” 

There are now 150 farmers and producers working with Local Roots and as many as 700 members.

Big ideas for a long vacant building

In 2009, the 12 founders included a bank president, an electrician, an architect, and a couple of high school teachers.

The initial idea was Marlene Boyer’s. She’s a family and consumer science teacher at Wooster High School.

“And I saw this empty building one day when I was driving by and the idea popped into my head that would be a perfect place for a market. So that kind of got the ball rolling and it was an effort of many people. The twelve people who came together as a steering committee with all of their diverse gifts that they brought to the project really made it happen. I just had one small part in it.” 

Anderson says they discovered the building, vacant for years, belonged to Wayne County.

 “ And they agreed to let us use it rent-free as long as we made significant improvements to the building. So volunteers are what have fueled the whole thing. Almost all of the renovations have been done by volunteers.”

Honor system

Members of the local foods cooperative either donate labor, like helping stock the shelves or build displays, or pay $50 a year. It’s all on the honor system.

You don’t actually have to be a member to shop at Local Roots, but Trevor Dunlap is proud to have been the first one.

 “It gives us a great opportunity to cultivate our own health as well as they greater community. Generally about once a week my wife and I come down with the kids. One of our favorite things is actually the yogurt from Mount Vernon, Ohio. And it is awesome.” 

Like other key ingredients coming together for the market’s success, that yogurt could become part of a new Northeast Ohio grocery item.

Anderson says the USDA recently gave Local Roots a grant to create new products in a much-bigger commercial kitchen. There’s just a small kitchen now for the café.

 “ The chefs that are working here already, they have all kinds of big ideas. They want to make pastas, pizza, pastis. Next year should be a whole new ballgame.” 

New products planned

Jennifer McMullen hopes to launch something new from Local Roots. She’s a professional baker who does demos at the market and sells what she makes  with ingredients she buys there. 

 “ Wheat and spelt and rye and oats and other grains from local farmers. Today I have a whole wheat bread and a whole spelt bread, both of which are vegan. I have some herb bread sticks, and the new thing that I’m trying is Turkish yogurt dip which uses Velvet View yogurt and Blue Jacket Dairy feta cheese as well as my home-grown dill and fresh garlic, and then I’m sampling it with my whole wheat pita bread.  This is something I’m hoping to make once we have our commercial kitchen up and running, especially if I can work with other producers here in the market to be able to showcase what they have as well as what I make.”  

One-stop shopping

Almost everything you find at Local Roots comes from very nearby, but Market Manager Jessica Eckleberry also has to stock what’s needed to make it a one-stop shop.

 “Like we have corn chips here from Athens, Ohio. That’s something that’s a little different to make sure that you would have what you would traditionally see in a grocery store. Over here are our meats. We have fantastic meats all from small farms, pasture-raised. Poultry, pork, beef, venison, lamb goat, hormone- free, anti-biotic free, free-range pastured. And you can read about the farm that they are actually coming from. When I buy a chicken I don’t say I’m just buying chicken. I’m buying a chicken from Martha’s Farm or from Marcus or from Beth.”

Growing support

 “Over here is our dairy and egg case where we have milk from Hartzler’s Farm right here in Wooster. This equipment was all donated from Buehlers. All of these displays. And they’ve been really supportive of what we’re doing as well.”  

Local Roots Board President Betsy Anderson says they get more support every day as well as  inquiries from groups that want to replicate the model.

 “We’re being asked about it all the time. Some folks in Lakewood, New Philadelphia, Granville, Mt Vernon, and also in other states. We’ve got some people in Maine interested in coming so we’re planning a workshop to help people figure out how to do it in their community. I think almost every medium to small town in the country has a vacant building. Why not put it to use?”

That workshop is planned for late this summer. Also in short-term plans is a great big party to celebrate reaching a million dollars in gross sales and turning a profit. 


Related Links & Resources
Local Roots website

Listener Comments:

Awesome!! I too am from a small town surrounded by farming communities! What a great plan, I'd love to see this happening in my town!
Best Wishes...


Posted by: Jeanette (Lakeview, MI) on June 15, 2012 4:06AM
Betsy -- Kudos to you


Posted by: Anonymous on June 2, 2012 11:06AM
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