Farmers markets have a long history of providing fresh food, art and a center for communities to come together. The Oxford farmers market is no different, bringing the community together for decades, a tradition that has continued despite challenges faced during a pandemic.
Recently, the farmers market has had to work to find ways to accommodate vendors and visitors. One way is through eCommerce, which is an online farmers market. Customers are able to pick out their products and pay through the portal. Then they pick up their groceries at the Tuesday market.
“I think most people are still really accustomed to coming to the market,” Olson said. “I’m appreciative we were able to do it, but I’m concerned we may need to turn more towards online ordering.”
The city has also recently given the market permission to spread out further in order to help encourage social distancing. Each vendor takes up one parking space and leaves one empty space in between them and their neighbors.
“It gives 5-6 feet of space to provide room for people to line up at booths and spread out more,” Olson said.
The farmers market has also had the opportunity to participate in benefit programs for people with low income. These include the WIC program (Women, Infants and Children) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). They were able to accept vouchers and payments to provide fresh and local produce in a more affordable way.
Produce Perks is another implemented program that rewards vendors for accepting alternate methods of payment. The market reimburses vendors for the vouchers they accept as payments, while also rewarding them an extra dollar token for every dollar of SNAP they accept.
“My tagline is, ‘We pay our farmers to give food away,’” Olson said.
The farmers market used to take place in Stewart Square, where CVS is now, before being moved uptown in 2004. Since then, Larry Slocum, the market director, has helped to increase the number of vendors and build the community surrounding it.
“If you don’t grow the market, you die,” Slocum said. “So we have to grow the market.”
Some farmers didn’t follow when the initial move took place. Instead, they started the Talawanda farmers market held at the high school. The only difference was that no one from outside the school district could attend that market, making it difficult for some people who lived close but outside the boundary to attend.
“It’s really kind of peculiar that you can have someone that lives a few miles away but won’t be let into the market,” Slocum said.
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Meanwhile, the uptown market grew steadily by welcoming more visitors. Slocum worked with farmers from both markets to eventually merge the two.
“At the uptown market, we’re not going to limit it to geographic location,” Slocum said. “That doesn’t make any sense to us.”
Ross Olson, the market manager, is helping to design the future of the market. He understands the special connection between the market and the community, especially surrounding the students.
“I don't know what the secret sauce is, but you just get people together, and they’re happy to be there,” Olson said. “They’re getting food and visiting friends and making friends, and there is just incredible energy.”
Even during the offseason, events are organized to continue building the community up. From movie screenings to gardening workshops, they provide a way for farmers and customers to come together throughout the entire year.
“The marketing weather is not as good, but people can start to think about getting together and sharing those experiences again,” Olson said.
Olson and Slocum were also able to restart the Tuesday market that had previously faded out of popularity. Not everyone can attend Saturday mornings, and they want every possible customer to experience the market. On Tuesday evenings in the T.J. Maxx parking lot, there is almost an entirely different customer base.
“It became clear over the years that a market for four hours on a Saturday is a novelty,” Olson said. “We can’t really serve everyone that we want on just Saturdays.”
One vendor, Darlene Yarnetsky, is an artisan who makes bags, scarves and masks. She’s going on her third year at the Oxford market and has been able to watch it grow even in that short time.
“I didn’t have any idea what to expect,” Yarnetsky said. “The market here, as far as variety and the produce, rivals any market I’ve seen.”
Junior Kate Reidy visits the farmers market almost every weekend to pick up local food for the week, but it’s more than just a way to pick up groceries. At home, she often visits her local farmers market with her dad, and now in Oxford, it provides a deeper connection with the community while keeping a tradition that’s important to her.
“We’ll text each other each week about what we did or what we got,” Reidy said. “It’s a nice way to talk to him every week.”
Reidy has found an even deeper connection with the market during her time at Miami. Last year, she had an internship working with the market to hold informational and educational events on campus.
“Even if you aren’t involved on that level, I think that the vendors really get to know the people who have become regulars,” Reidy said. “They always want to strike up a conversation with you.”
The mission of the farmers market is to provide fresh and local farm items, strengthen the relationship between farmers and consumers, and support small farms by providing an outlet to supply products. Every Saturday morning in Oxford they are able to do just that, pandemic and all.