It all started with a market. Back in 2011, The Stark Social Worker’s Network identified a need in North East Canton for a neighborhood farmers’ market. Abutting three of Canton’s food deserts*, a small market was started at their office just off Mahoning Rd NE. For the first time in decades, fresh produce had come back to the neighborhood and the Mahoning Road Corridor Farmers’ Market was born.
In 2012 the groundwork was laid to start StarkFresh. The Stark Social Worker’s Network realized that if it reached out to another local non-profit, JRC for assistance in running the second year of the farmers’ market, it was likely that together, their combined community impact would increase. With JRC’s assistance, The market was able to contract with USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to accept SNAP** benefits and the Market was moved to a more visible location to St. Paul’s square at the corner of Superior Ave NE and Mahoning Rd NE.
In 2013 the StarkFresh program was officially birthed at JRC and a glimpse of what was to come first appeared. The name StarkFresh came from collaboration with Walsh University and for the first time was applied to the expanded programming JRC was undertaking. The community planning team, made up of neighborhood volunteers, and under the direction of JRC, created a backyard gardening campaign. This was a great success with 50 families learning how to grow vegetables and herbs on their properties with nearly 800 pounds of produce being grown. Another initiative was the installation of a few raised garden beds at the JRC Learning Center for the school age and pre-school children to learn to grow and eat fresh garden-grown vegetables and herbs.
In 2014 the newly renamed StarkFresh Corridor Farmer’s Market saw a 33% increase in SNAP and WIC benefits redeemed versus 2013. Listening to the public, we realized that the reason more people weren’t coming to the market was due to mobility issues so a pilot program to run a Mobile Farmers Market was tested. In October, using extra produce from our Corridor Market vendors, we traveled to three locations throughout the community. The response was resoundingly positive and we realized a substantial need existed to expand this program.
In 2015 the StarkFresh Mobile Farmers Market went from a pilot program to a full-blown reality. Many hurdles were overcome to see JRC working out an agreement to use a van, painted up as the “Veggie Mobile” and obtain refrigeration equipment to allow for produce to be available at 14 sites. The van delivered produce four days per week for 17 weeks using produce supplied by the Grower’s Cooperative that StarkFresh had coordinated from 11 separate growers. The Veggie Mobile accepted WIC, SNAP, credit cards and SFMNP vouchers and provided over $3,600 in revenue directly to the growers that they would not have had without the Mobile Market Program.
For the 2016 season, StarkFresh is moving the Corridor Farmer’s Market down the road to Cook’s Lagoon through collaboration with Stark Park and Mercy Medical Center. This will result in having more vendors, better programs and allow us to provide greater access and fresh produce options for the community.
The StarkFresh Mobile Market will be coming to Lifecare Family Health & Dental Center. Join us in our parking lot every Thursday starting July 13 from 1:45 pm – 2:30 pm. for affordable fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods and eggs. Remember, the Market accepts SNAP/Ohio Direction Card, Cash, Credit, Senior & WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Vouchers.