With grocery stores long gone and no fresh food nearby, residents of part of the East Side decided they wanted more than McDonald's within walking distance of their homes. Their solution? Bring fresh produce, meat and more straight to the street corner.
With grocery stores long gone and no fresh food nearby, residents of part of the East Side decided they wanted more than McDonald’s within walking distance of their homes. Their solution? Bring fresh produce, meat and more straight to the street corner.
From June through October, a few dollars buys zucchinis picked that morning or freshly baked bread. A few more dollars procure a week’s worth of fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, meat or mushrooms. Assorted homemade jams, honeys, syrups and spices accompany the produce.
The food comes from the Ravens’ Farmers Market, which runs from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays in the parking lot of Redeemer Lutheran Church, 1555 S. James Rd. It’s a project of local churches and civic associations whose members are still grieving the loss of nearby Big Bear and Super Duper grocery stores.
Market patrons range from die-hard fresh foodies to first-time browsers. Many come from a few blocks away in the Berwick and Berwyn East neighborhoods. Market vendors also accept food stamps, easing access to fresh and healthy food for poorer households.
“The market started a bit out of desperation,” said Al Debelak, who has been the pastor at Redeemer Lutheran for 28 years. He helped spearhead the effort to start the market. “We don’t have a grocery store. We’re in a food desert. ... It gets to be disappointing.
“These are not ghetto neighborhoods.”
The area lost its Big Bear grocery store when the company folded a decade ago. In 2009, the Super Duper closed. Residents speak nostalgically of when they could walk to a grocery store. Today, buying an ear of corn or a week’s worth of groceries requires a car or bus trip for many residents.
“A walk to the grocery store isn’t possible,” said Sheryl Owens, a member of Redeemer’s congregation and the market’s board. “This neighborhood can’t sustain itself without grocery stores or restaurants cooking healthy food.”
The market, begun last summer, tries to fill that void. Two grants totaling about $5,600 from the United Way got the market off the ground.
It has met with some success. Last summer, 1,700 people visited the stands during the 20 Sundays it was open. Two Sundays ago, 112 perused the produce.
Owens said she hopes those numbers show businesses that her neighborhood has an interest in a nearby grocery store.
“We think if we can get grocery stores back, we can get other businesses here, too,” she said.
Yesterday, five vendors were under tents along the edge of the church parking lot: four farms and a local baker. The closest farmers were from Groveport.
Mark Krist, a farmer from near Marion, said of the market, “There’s nothing bad about it. The only negative is trying to get people to know we’re here.”
Krist and his wife, Cathy, run Carousel Watergardens Farm. They have driven to Columbus almost every weekend for the market since it started.
The Krists have been selling their produce at markets for 50 years. They come because they “know there’s not a lot of (fresh food) here to serve the community,” Mr. Krist said.
Jeanette Cameron, who lives a few streets from the church, searched for fruit yesterday on her first visit to the market. Signs advertising the market drew her in as she looks for an alternative to the Wal-Mart store in Whitehall.
“I want more fresh fruit and vegetables,” she said. “I’m trying to eat healthier.”
The market’s organizers watch each shopper closely, hoping their time inspecting produce under the tents will drive a fresh-food revolution on Columbus’ East Side. Or, at least, bring back a grocery store.