These are just a few of the locally sourced foods the Countryside Conservancy plans to bring to downtown Akron when it opens the Countryside Public Market below the Northside Market on Furnace Street Oct. 28.
Countryside Conservancy is known for the success of its farmers’ markets. Started in 1999 to preserve the agricultural practices and rural culture of the area, the non-profit partnered with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to create sustainable, visitor-friendly farmsteads. There are now 11 farms in the program.
During warm weather, Countryside hosts weekly farmers’ markets, peddling the produce of those farms and other vendors at Howe Meadow and Highland Square.
But the nonprofit still sees a need for increased access to fresh and local products of its vendors in Akron.
“There is a high-density population in Akron that will benefit from access to healthy, fresh food,” says Tracy Emrick, Executive Director of Countryside. “Food is a catalyst for community building, and public markets are destinations for allpeople of a community to come together in a fun, positive and healthy way.”
“Accessibility is crucial,” adds Rachel Goforth of Countryside. “Our big market at Howe Meadow isn’t accessible for people who might not have reliable transportation. You can’t take a bus there.”
That’s important for an organization whose mission is “Connecting people, food, and land.” Case in point, Rachel says: Countryside accepts SNAP (food stamps) through a partnership with the non-profit Produce Perks Midwest, which matches SNAP monies spent on produce at farmers markets dollar-for-dollar (up to $20).
“We believe our mission means ensuring allpeople have access to fresh, local, and healthy food,” Rachel says.
Currently, that’s a real problem in Akron. According to the United States Census Bureau, more than a quarter of the city’s population lives beneath the poverty line. There are a few convenience stores in or around downtown, but the closest grocery store, Dave’s Supermarket, is 2.4 miles away. Without a car, it would take someone 45 minutes by foot or 30 minutes by bus to buy groceries.
Site manager Alicia Halls has worked toward the mission of greater food access by turning what was once a garage into a space able to host up to 40 vendors.
Once it opens on Oct. 28, the public market will host Sunday farmers’ markets, like Countryside Conservancy currently does at Howe Meadow. But this market will be climate-controlled and won’t close down for the winter. As it develops a foothold in the neighborhood, Countryside Public Market will continue to grow.
“In Phase 2, we’ll put in a permanent cafe and local food producers will be able to make hot foods,” says Alicia. “Once Akron tells us it’s ready for additional days, we’ll start to add them.”