On a recent, bitterly cold Saturday morning, Columbusites got a taste of summer in Worthington. Inside The Shops at Worthington Place, on North High Street, farmers, bakers, artisans and other small-business owners set up shop, eager to greet marketgoers.
Near the entrance of the Worthington Farmers Market, local singer-songwriter Casey Redmond set the mood with acoustic folk tunes, while shoppers sampled bread made with ancient grains from Dan the Baker, raw and rich SaraBee Honey, salami made with Rockmill Brewery beer from North Country Charcuterie, sheep-milk cheese from Kokoborrego Cheese Co. and much more. And contrary to popular belief, January shoppers were able to stock up on fresh produce, such as apples, potatoes, onions, cabbage and Brussel sprouts.
On the other end of the strip of vendors, by the kids play area, the Columbus Folk Music Society invited anyone who can play an instrument to join their jam session, complete with guitars and even a washboard and washtub bass.
It’s no secret farmers markets aren’t just for farmers anymore. The Worthington Farmers Market and other markets around the city have become a launchpad for local small-business owners, from farmers and meat purveyors to bakers and beekeepers. Farmers markets give entrepreneurs the opportunity to get exposure for their businesses, test new products and pricing and develop personal relationships with customers, without the financial commitment of a brick-and-mortar location. (Learn more about local small businesses on this week’s episode of Columbus Neighborhoods, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12 on WOSU TV.)
Jaime Moore, manager of the Worthington Farmers Market, sees the value in providing these opportunities to small-business owners, perhaps more than most. Moore is also the co-founder and co-owner of Wayward Seed Farm, a market vendor.
She says Wayward and other farms will often do trial runs of new produce items, such as different varieties of melons or squash, and ask regular customers to report back after they’ve tried them.
“[The market] is our single best opportunity to connect with our customers,” Moore says of Wayward. “It’s an opportunity we have to answer their questions and talk to them about what we’re doing.”
When Moore took on the market manager role almost six years ago, she led the charge in turning it into the only consistently year-round market in the area. Every Saturday of the year—save for holidays and severely snowy conditions—people from around Columbus flock to Worthington for the market. May through October, about 80 vendors sell their goods outside on North High Street in Old Worthington. And in November, about 50 vendors move indoors.
“One of the things a lot of people ask about is the weather for the indoor market,” says Moore, who previously managed the Dublin and Bexley farmers markets. “What do we do if it’s bad weather? From my perspective, if it’s not a level 3 snow emergency (the highest level) in Franklin County, we’re going to be open. Because a lot of people do a lot of work leading up to the market, so to have the opportunity to provide the marketplace, we’re going to do it.”
This commitment to both the vendors and customers has paid off. The Worthington Farmers Market, which celebrates its 30th birthday this summer, has earned a reputation as one of the largest and most robust markets in the area.
Many vendors that started at the market have grown over the years, and some have even expanded into permanent locations.
“I can remember when Dan the Baker was not Dan the Baker,” Moore says of Dan Riesenberger. “Dan was baking at home out of a wood-fired oven that he’d build with his dad. And today he is doing markets all over, he has a storefront, he opened the Toast Bar and he works with some of the biggest restaurants in the community. You can see that he’s grown into this fantastic baker that we should really value in the community. And I can say that about a lot of our producers who have grown and improved and become real professionals in their craft.”
Moore also points to Sassafras Bakery in Worthington and Purple Sage Bakery in Upper Arlington as examples of market vendors that grew into brick-and-mortar locations. Laurie Sargent, chef and owner of Purple Sage Bakery, had been selling her all-natural, made-from-scratch French pastries wholesale when she started as a vendor at the Worthington Farmers Market a few years ago. She says the bakery’s success at the market is what propelled her into a storefront location, which just opened Dec. 2.
“People were constantly coming back (to the market) every week and looking for us, and it was just really successful,” Sargent says. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to open up the bakery in Upper Arlington without the market. It was just a good test market to see if people in Columbus thought my product was any good and were willing to pay the pricing.”
While Sargent took a break from the Worthington Farmers Market to open the bakery, she says Purple Sage will be back for the summer season. Meanwhile, the Worthington Farmers Market continues to draw seasoned businesses, as well as new faces to the vendor lineup.
“To me, a farmers market is not an event,” Moore says. “A farmers market is a business, and the way that we (vendors) are all perfecting our craft and becoming professionals.”
Photos: Catherine Murray/Worthington Farmers Market
Columbus Small Businesses Preview
On this episode, we take a look at the great stories behind a few local, small businesses: the oldest Harley Davidson dealership in the country, King-Lincoln District businesses, a bakery and piano cafe, a farm started by a 7-year-old and a bike shop with a social mission.