By Graig Graziosi
By noon, the first Youngstown Farmers Market at B&O Station downtown had nearly been picked clean.
Saralee Greenfield, a nutrition educator with Mercy Health, was outside the station checking in participants enrolled in the hospital’s fresh fruit and vegetable subscription program. As they approached her table she apologized that the selection was meager.
“There’s not a lot left, we were almost sold out within the first hour,” Greenfield said. “I had people waiting in line this morning at 8 a.m.”
The market – the result of a partnership between the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation and Mercy Health – opened at 10 a.m.
While selling out was good for vendors, the event’s sizeable turnout – there were more than 300 people throughout the day – is a reminder of the troubling reality that many residents of the county rely on food-assistance programs.
The market is funded by a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant meant to address food insecurity. The dollar-for-dollar grant was matched in large part thanks to funding from Mercy Health and is meant to ensure that poor individuals receiving food assistance can afford healthy food.
Tom Hetrick, the YNDC’s neighborhood planner, said cost is a major barrier to people eating healthier.
“We’ve done surveys in Youngstown and Warren where we asked people if they ate at least five fruits and vegetables a day. Most said no, and when we asked why, they said cost was the biggest factor. They simply couldn’t afford to regularly buy fresh produce,” Hetrick said.
“I think there’s a misconception that everyone that doesn’t eat healthy does so by choice, when that often isn’t the case.”
The farmers market and other YNDC and Mercy Health programs – such as the Produce Perks program at the Cornersburg Sparkle Market – “double up” individuals’ food assistance, effectively giving them twice the purchasing power when they buy healthy food and produce.
Though some individuals arrived after the market had sold out, all were re-directed to other local programs and markets where they could purchase healthy food with their benefits.
Though the market caters to individuals receiving food assistance, it was open to everyone, and the six vendors who put their products up for sale didn’t leave disappointed.
Barbara Loya of Farm 153 in Jefferson and Matt Herbruck of Birdsong Farm in Hiram both said they’d never done higher cash sales at a Youngstown farmers market.
Loya said that it was still early in the growing season and that the vendors would likely have much more to sell at the next market July 11.
In addition to Farm 153 and Birdsong Farm, Red Basket Farm, Huffman’s Fruit Farm, Field Fresh Farm and Jack’s Mountain Orchard also had tables at the market.