Farmers markets are always the best place to shop for the freshest local produce, meats, dairy, flowers and goods in general, and Over-the-Rhine’s Findlay Market — Ohio’s oldest surviving municipal market house — is certainly one of the finest. To put it bluntly, without farmers we have no food, but sometimes getting to a farmers market on a specific day of the week can be rough for consumers — no matter how idyllic a market day is. And for farmers, spending certain days away from the farm to man tables at various markets is no picnic, either. To the rescue is Dirt: A Modern Market, Findlay Market’s answer to this shopping conundrum.
“Dirt is like an antique shop, but for vegetables and local produce that’s on consignment, but without the smell,” says Rebecca Heine, local food director and market manager at Findlay Market. “Anyone who’s a producer, whether it be the everyday backyard gardener with extra stuff to the farmer with 300 acres or a cottage producer can sell at Dirt. It’s slightly modeled after Local Roots, a market and café up in Wooster, Ohio.”
The concept for Dirt came during a brainstorming session between Heine, Karen Kahle, Findlay Market communications and program director, and Mike Hass, Findlay Market farm manager, three or four years ago. In the summer of 2014, Findlay Market applied for and received a $75,000 grant from Interact for Health, which provided the funds necessary to put the plan into action.
For shoppers, the benefits are huge: access to fresh, local produce, meats, dairy, eggs and locally produced foods six days a week from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. instead of only on Saturdays when the farmers are usually in the Findlay Market farm shed. “Dirt makes the same product that you find in the farmers market (but) available every day the market is open,” Kahle says. “And we know that it’s what our shoppers are looking for. Weekdays are where we really hope to build up shopper traffic. Saturday is about at its capacity, and Sunday is pretty busy as well.”
An education tent has been set up on Saturdays in the farm shed, when farmers normally bring their produce, to inform EBT recipients about redeeming their benefits for products, including at Dirt, Kahle says. Dirt accepts EBT and SNAP benefits, making produce available to lower-income shoppers who wouldn’t necessarily be able to have access to these healthy foods.
“We know from talking to some of our EBT shoppers that coming down on the weekends isn’t the most convenient thing due to transportation and work schedules,” Kahle says.
“A lot of them don’t want to bring their children down on the weekends when it’s so crowded,” Heine adds, “so it will be easier to bring them down, and it’s easier to get a cab or get a relative to drive you down [during the week] than it is during the weekend.”
Farmers will reap an extra benefit as well. In addition to not having to man a market table during the week, they get increased market share. Participants in Dirt set their own prices and agree to pay a percentage of the sale — between 15 and 30 percent, depending on if it’s shelf stable or not, says Heine. Also part of the agreement is what becomes of the product in the event that it doesn’t sell. If produce is about ready to spoil, Dirt will donate it to various charities and shelters. Merchants can choose to either participate in the donation component or ask to have their produce back.
Marianne Hamilton, director of The Kitchen at Findlay Market, foresees a symbiotic relationship between Dirt and the soon-to-be-open incubator kitchen. “The idea is that any of our Kitchen members who are going to be producing shelf-stable items such as jam, jellies, things of that nature, they will be able to have this perfect retail outlet to use as a test market before they go out and figure out what other local channels they can use for distribution,” she says. “So it’s going to be a really great test for them to figure out if this is something that the public wants — can we make any tweaks to it while it’s right here — so it’ll be a really great outlet for all of these Kitchen members.”
As for Dirt itself, the construction dust has just barely been swept away, and Heine is already anticipating quick growth with a lofty plan for the future. “We’re going to be growing, and possibly to help with the product going to waste, we would like to be able to use it in a café, so take anything that’s about to spoil in 24 hours and make it food and sell it as you walk in the door,” she says.
Dirt opened its doors on July 23, and to date there are more than 30 local farmers and producers participating.
For more information on DIRT, visit findlaymarket.org.