Farmers Market remains in need of new leader

 

By Nicole Hennessy

Avon Lake

Avon Lake’s Farmers Market could be on its way out if someone doesn’t step up to run it.

That’s where the market’s vendors may come into play.

A group of stakeholders is meeting this week to discuss the market’s future, including what type of leadership it would best thrive under, as well as plans to ensure financial success.

Market organizer Leanne Hoppe, who launched the market two years ago, recently announced she’s stepping down due to time constraints and the fact she no longer lives in Avon Lake.

Rather than simply stepping away, though, Hoppe has dedicated herself to finding an acceptable replacement.

Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka says he doesn’t want to see the market go, but admits it didn’t do as well as some had hoped, something he partly attributes to mainstay Avon markets like Pickering Hill Farms or Fitch’s.

There have also been some setbacks.

Due to a now-amended city ordinance that prohibits temporary businesses from operating in the same place for more than two months in a row, the market had to switch locations, from 32801 Electric Blvd. to just around the corner, across from the Old Firehouse Community Center in 2015.

The ordinance now allows for the market to operate in the same location all season.

“The farmers market’s first season was really tough,” said Hoppe, who moved the market back to its original Electric Boulevard location after the new ordinance was worked out.

“People didn’t know it existed or where to find us, and I wasn’t sure they were interested. Because the people I’d worked with in the city to get the market started had been enthusiastic, I decided to keep trying and hope the word would spread over time. At the end of the last season, this past year, we had a strong base of regulars, and it also seemed like new people were coming each week.”

Encouraged by this progress in the 2016 season, Hoppe says she sees the market in need of more outreach and community interest, but ultimately thriving.

For the Boston transplant, Northeast Ohio’s burgeoning food scene has always impressed and encouraged her to move forward — and to stay in the area.

Marcia Coleman, owner of Avon Lake’s Coleman Garden’s, lists plans enthusiastically. For her, the success of the market will be measured by far more than strong sales.

From internship programs to outreach with local schools and community colleges, she sees endless opportunities presented by the market.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm,” Coleman said of plans for this season, thoughts of interesting grants she and her colleagues could pursue on her mind.

Plus, there’s the community-building aspect, which has been a goal for everyone involved.

Of the vendors, customers and supporters of the market Coleman said, “We’ve grown as a family.”

Even during the weeks with lower attendance in 2015, Hoppe said vendors ranging from produce to green laundry detergent, vegan cashew spread, coffee and pies, collectively grossed $600 to $700 each week. This amount fluctuated according to how many customers there were on a given week.

Hoppe was even able to start donating unsold items to Community Resource Services (CRS). She also started a plant swap.

Though she invested some of her own money when she started the market, Hoppe said through vendor fees, “The market really pays for itself.”

“The only costs associated are for marketing: flyers, postcards, etc., and any events or special guests like musicians. And time, of course.”

Without an individual leader publicly stepping up, Hoppe and vendors like Coleman have been discussing the idea of the vendors running the market as a co-op or a group taking control and splitting administrative responsibilities.

“Even having an intern last summer made the workload for running the market much easier,” said Hoppe.

“People could share responsibilities, like managing the actual market each week, updating social media (which is all in place), hanging flyers and scheduling vendors.”

Zilka said the city will continue to support the market under new leadership.

“The city is certainly cooperating with anyone who wants to take this up, but we are not in the business of a farmers market,” he said.

Reiterating the need for more shoppers, vendors and outreach, Hoppe remains optimistic about the market’s potential.

“The biggest reward is a happy vendor: connecting people to local food,” said Hoppe.

More information can be found at avonlakefarmersmarket.org.

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