(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Locally-produced products from Erie, Crawford and Venango counties soon will be available on shelves in all three counties.
All three shops focus on highlighting and offering locally-produced goods to their communities, but producers (farmers, crafters and artisans) have had to reach out to each market to establish a relationship with each before having their products featured. Further, each producer needed to transport their products to each of the stores. Even if it was feasible, it wasn’t simple.
That’s about to change.
Here’s what’s happening — the three-store partnership expects to receive a $120,000 grant that will help create the transportation support and education to move products between the three stores. So if Core Goods has a jam from one producer, for example, now the other two markets also have that same jam, and vice versa. Already, the three stores were carrying some of the same products, but of the 100 producers that will soon be on the shelves at all three markets, only 16 of those products were previously sold at all three stores.
About 90% of those producers are small-scale producers without any employees, a shared announcement from the three markets said. The products include produce, dairy, salsa, baked goods, syrup, honey, eggs and meats, including chicken, pork, beef and lamb.
Garrett Gleeson owns Fat Hawk Farm in Guys Mills of Crawford County. It’s a small-scale vegetable farm with a one-man team (Gleeson himself). He said the aggregation represents an opportunity for local producers.
“I serve only local communities. These are essentially the only three markets I provide for right now. It’s really nice for me for all three of them to be connected. It’s a lot less driving. It’s a lot more outreach — they’ve been sharing publicity,” Gleeson said.
Fat Hawk Farm also will serve as a drop-off location for other farms in the area.
Ashley Sheffer, co-owner of Core Goods, Meadville Market House manager Kerstin Ams, Edinboro Market president Marti Martz and Gleeson met with JET 24/FOX 66 on July 14 to discuss the aggregation and what it means for the three counties. There is a difference between buying food at an international superstore versus buying food from local producers, the group said.
“Food is so much more than just what you eat. It’s fuel,” Sheffer said. Sheffer got her start in the food scene as a food blogger before moving to Oil City and opening Core Goods with her business partners. “It’s not just about what it tastes like, but also knowing how it fuels your body and the impact that it makes on the farmer and the economy.”
And there’s an education component the smaller stores bring to their customers. Sheffer noted that not everybody knows what to do with fava beans, for example, but if Gleeson brings in a harvest of fava beans, customers can meet him directly at the store for advice. Further, Sheffer maintains “Tip Tuesday” Facebook posts that educate the store’s customers and social media followers.
The markets already are underway in their aggregation thanks to a grant from the Erie County Department of Health. That grant covered mileage for transportation. The $120,000 Healthy Food Financing Initiative grant through the United States Department of Agriculture will cover transportation mileage, but also coolers, freezers, and food safety training. The grant also will open the stores to accepting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)/EBT.
That’s the benefits for the customers, but it also will benefit the producers who supply the markets. Martz said some 70-85% of each sale goes back to the producer. Then there’s the benefits to the local economy — Gleeson said he tries to keep the money local.
“I do my grocery shopping at these stores — a solid 90%, at these stores and other local vendors,” Gleeson said. “And in my farm operation, I try to source everything I can locally — things like compost, and if I’m restocking my chicken flock, I go to a local farmer for that. Just keep the money within the community.
“Five dollars just bounces around the farmers market between the farmers, and in that time, it has purchased volumes of food.”
Each of the stores has a different business structure: Edinboro Market is a nonprofit entity with a board of directors; Meadville Market House is owned and operated by the City of Meadville (the Market House has an interesting history — it was built in 1870 and has served as a food market ever since); and Core Goods is a small business. Though they have different structures, they’re functioning well together.
“As far as the project and the grant, I think that we complement each other,” Martz said. Sheffer has experience in marketing and communications. Ams has a food and farming background and taught at Allegheny College. She now owns and produces DODO yogurt in addition to her role as manager of the Market House. Gleeson brings his farming background, experience and perspective. And Martz sees the big picture, writes grants and brings people together.
The markets hope to have the grant secured and implemented by September.
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“We’ll continue to build what we have here on a small scale, get all the equipment in place, and then bring everything together in the spring,” Martz said.