It’s been a rough summer for farmers. Record drought and sweltering heat are taking their toll across Ohio. Despite this fact, you will often find me shopping at the Great Sidney Farmers’ Market. Like last month, on Saturday, June 30, 2012, when high winds and torrential rain had wreaked devastation the night before. Yet the faithful vendors were selling their produce, baked goods, crafts, flowers, and other goodies. That morning, I loaded up on bright red tomatoes, succulent green cucumbers, sweet onions, ripe peaches, and a few loaves of banana, cornmeal, and rhubarb bread. After all, that evening we would be celebrating my mother-in-law’s birthday. I hurried home to prepare her favorite cucumber with onions, sliced the tomatoes, and packed some specialty bread for the trip.
Later that day, still without power at my mom-in-laws, we ate grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. The garnishes, cucumber and onions, and freshly sliced peaches were my contribution to the family feast. My sister-in-law ravenously ate the juicy tomatoes until they were all gone. She apologized by asking, “We don’t get tomatoes with flavor like this so early in the season. Where did you find them?”
Where I find everything else, that’s delicious. At the Great Sidney Farmers’ Market which is celebrating its thirtieth season this year according to Maureen Smelewski, the director of the Downtown Sidney Business Association. With a setting featuring the historic courthouse, cascading fountains, and majestic trees, the market’s vendors have told the downtown director, that “…it’s one of the prettiest locations you can find to have a Farmers’ Market.” The faithful farmers, crafters and bakers are there every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to noon around theCourthouse Square from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October.
Long-time vendors, Tom and Tammy Brown were set up Saturday, June 30th, too, even though their farm had sustained heavy damage from the storm the evening before. Their machinery building was destroyed, two Maple trees were downed, and roof damage was caused by the gusting winds. The Brown’s 400 acre farm includes 20 acres of produce. It’s located on St. Rt. 33 between Wapakoneta and St. John’s. Despite their loss, they came, “… [Tom] had picked the produce. You have to do something with it,” said 53-year-old Tammy who is also the executive director of Mercy Unlimited, Inc. serving Eastern Auglaize County.
“Tom gets up at 3:30 a.m.[each day]….the produce needs to be picked within 24 hours…to be fresh for the consumers,” said Tammy who has been a farmer’s wife for over three decades. Most often, their leftover product is either donated to Lima’s Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen or to the food pantry at Mercy Unlimited. Tammy’s 55-year-old husband has been farming since the early seventies. He has also been a dedicated part of the Great Sidney Farmers’ Market for almost 25 years. Their five children grew up assisting their dad at the market with Tammy helping sporadically.
To Marlene Smelewski, individuals like the Browns are integral to the event’s success. “They have been a part of planning…I have 14 core vendors who are part of that group,” she said. The vendor roster boasts a total of approximately 45 merchants now, with some renting more than one space. Almost at capacity, but the event’s organizer says there are still available rentals for growers, crafters, bakers, etc.
The history of the market is sketchy, although it has always been held at the square. Smelewski believes that it began 30 years ago with, “A few different farmers with carts, and a few Amish women [bakers].” The market just evolved. After all, when everything else in the world goes awry, it’s comforting to buy fresh produce, mouthwatering jam, or delicious baked goods. “A lot of people who visit the market, rely on them to be there every weekend,” Smelewski said. The vendors, “….seem to enjoy the camaraderie and interaction with customers and each other…it’s become kind of a family.”
Tammy Brown likes the fellowship, but she also has a passion to educate others about making healthy food choices. “It’s important for people to know where your food comes from, to eat healthy and eat local…and I love sharing ways you can use it,” said the Auglaize county merchant. “It’s a tradition that people look forward to,” said Maureen Smelewski. “I’ve made it such a huge part of my life. It’s something I hope goes for another 30 years…it’s one of those rare gems we’ve been able to succeed and keep going.”
How about three cheers for the Farmers Market? If you have one in your community, why not support these wonderful folks who make it their business to feed us? Or better yet, since area farmers would need a miracle to salvage their crops, why not say a little prayer for them. After all, when they have a tough season, these stalwart cultivators of God’s Earth just hope the next one will be better.
This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on July 20, 2012. Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Visit her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com