Shoppers are rolling into local farmers markets alongside the much-anticipated summer produce — and just in time. Visitors to the two farmers markets in Columbus have just six weekends left until the markets close for the fall.
Organizers of the city’s two markets said they anticipate that the recent arrival of produce such as tomatoes, sweet corn and green beans will result in a spike in attendance from this weekend through Sept. 17, when the markets close for the summer season.
The Columbus City Farmers Market, located in the parking lot of FairOaks Mall, has seen an increase in its customer base from last year, coordinator Sande Hummel said. She estimates having 300 or more people some weekends where vendors were so busy they didn’t have a chance to even sit down or grab a drink.
But she’s not complaining.
Story continues below gallery
“It’s nice because it means people are starting to take eating healthy seriously,” Hummel said.
She expects crowds will become even bigger now that the tomatoes, sweet corn and green beans have appeared in the past few weeks.
The Columbus City Farmers Market also offers a ripe selection of Jackson County watermelon, locally made breads and pies, meats and an assortment of vegetables, including the coveted tomatoes and sweet corn.
The arrival of September will bring fall produce such as apples, gourds, mums, pumpkins and an assortment of other squashes.
Locally grown tomatoes didn’t fully arrive in the Columbus area until July, Hummel said. However, farmers market vendor Hackman Farms — based southeast of Columbus — whetted consumers’ appetites for tomatoes when it bought in some from southern Indiana in June and made them available for purchase in the Columbus area, she said.
Vendor Graziella Bush of Columbus agreed regarding the high anticipation for fresh-grown tomatoes this year.
“Everybody is waiting for tomatoes. I mean, you can just see people salivating at the end of June,” said Bush, whose booth has filled the Columbus City Farmers Market with hard-to-find vegetables for years.
Bush began her garden-based journey with a plot in the city gardens and soon “graduated to 12” plots.
With Italian seeds sent from her mother who lives in Italy, Bush’s garden has provided Hoosier taste buds with European flavor through unique items such as Marconi beans, Tuscan Kale from Florence, yellow and San Marzano tomatoes, Russian Kale, zucchini from Rome and Venice and, of course, candy onions.
“Why grow regular onions when you can grow candy onions?” Bush said.
Candy onions have a stronger onion flavor than the milder Walla Walla onions, she said.
For another tomato fix, visitors can go next door to the Schaefer Farms booth with nearly every other kind of tomato. The Schaefer garden is home to about 57 tomato varieties this year, said Jenica Schaefer of Hope, whose booth is brimming with a large number of them, although not all varieties are there at one time.
The friendly, cozy feel of the Columbus City Farmers Market attracts customers who prefer the convenience of a shorter trip. Marlene Chestnut of Columbus dropped by for new potatoes and corn for her fish boil dinner. She visits the Hackman Farms booth nearly every weekend.
Sweet corn has been another popular vegetable at the markets this year. It arrived at the end of July, said Becky Church, organizer of the Columbus Farmers Market, conducted in the Cummins Inc. parking lot off of Brown Street.
The Columbus Farmers Market, which set its roots deep into downtown, has thrived on an entirely different feel. The festival-like atmosphere, complete with lemon shakeups, music and mouthwatering scents, entices visitors from all over the area. On their busiest days, the market sees about 3,000 visitors, estimated Teresa Fisher, market coordinator.
This year has brought a new crowd with the addition of Purdue Extension’s Foodlink, said Jim Dietz, one of the market’s coordinators. The outcome was a welcome surprise as the team of four had no idea what to expect.
“I was probably the most skeptical,” coordinator Hutch Schumaker said. “I thought, ‘This is going to be really difficult,’ but it really has gone very smoothly.”
Purdue Extension’s Foodlink is a website and app that helps customers learn about fruits and vegetables they haven’t used before by scanning a QR code of the item they want to know more about. It also offers recipes and tips for using each food item.
Becky Whipker of Whipker’s Market and Greenhouse in Columbus agrees that the app has valuable uses, but felt that people at the market were in too much of a hurry to use it.
“It gets a little crazy in here,” Whipker said.
With 84 full-time vendors who participate nearly every week, 48 part-time vendors who fill in when full-time vendors are unavailable and the help of community partners such as Cummins and Columbus Regional Hospital’s Healthy Communities Initiative, the downtown market has been a consistent success, organizers said.
They are quick to give others the credit.
“Your vendors are the main thing,” coordinator Teresa Fisher said. “We can’t do it without good vendors and keeping the vendors happy.”
If the smiles, laughter and animated conversation are any indication, then the vendors are definitely happy.
From detailed woodworking by Shawn Bentz to cold-brewed coffee concentrate by Jacob and Victoria Ward to French omelets by The Chefs2 Daughter — and more, there is easily something for everyone.
Jennifer Perry came prepared with her daughter Hannah and a wagon to store their market finds. They usually stick to the fruits, vegetables and Amish bread.
“And the balloon animals, of course,” Perry said with a quick look at her daughter.
Even with all there is to offer, the large selection of fruits and vegetables remains the strongest pull of the market, Fisher said, and many visitors can be seen leaving with bags of produce in hand.
The desire for produce at the pick of the season stays the same no matter which market you go to, large or small.
Autumn Yu had one word to explain why she comes back to the Columbus City Farmers Market week after week: “Fresh.”
Hours: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 17.
Number of vendors: 15
What’s for sale: Produce, farm fresh meats, herbs, flowers, pies, breads, honey and more.
Location: FairOaks Mall parking lot, 2380 25th Street.
What’s next: The second Winter Farmers Market will begin Dec. 3 inside FairOaks Mall. Farmers with greenhouses or high tunnels interested in participating can contact coordinator Sande Hummel.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday through Sept. 17.
Number of vendors: 84 full time, 48 part time
What’s for sale: Arts and crafts, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, cold-brewed coffee, French omelets, crepes, lemon shakeups, homemade Popsicles and more.
Location: Cummins Inc. parking lot along Brown Street in Columbus.