By Burton Speakman
As strawberries and a few other vegetables come into season, a number of roadside markets in the Mahoning Valley already are getting into full swing.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, customers were streaming into the parking lot at Catalpa Grove Farm in Columbiana to buy the first berries out of the field.
Business at Catalpa Grove has been building since Mother’s Day, when the greenhouse portion of the business began selling flowers for the season, said Joy Weaver, market manager there.
Already this year there have been two busy sales times for flowers and plants around Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, she said.
“It’s a constant battle to keep up with the next season,” Weaver said.
While Catalpa Grove does have some strawberries available, its fields have yet to open for people to pick their own, she said.
Business has picked up considerably over the past few years, Weaver said.
But there also are more people who come to the farm and buy just a small amount of product for the week, she said. There also are new customers who are coming to the store and want help with learning how to can vegetables.
There are a lot more people coming to the farm who want to buy local produce.
“We still get a lot of the repeat customers who come in and buy bushels and bushels,” she said.
Pat Kydd of Beaver Falls, Pa., is one of those repeat customers.
“I drive past a lot of fruit and vegetable stands to come here. They must be doing something right,” she said.
An increase in the number of people who want to buy locally produced food is a common theme among roadside stands in the area.
Customers also were stopping at Angiuli’s Farm Market — with markets in Columbiana and Canfield — to buy the early crops of strawberries and rhubarb.
Business already has started to pick up compared to this point last year, said Mario Angiuli.
“I think there are more people who want to buy local food,” he said.
Buying local food keeps the money in the community, Angiuli said.
“By buying locally, you’re getting produce that’s a lot fresher, better quality and has better flavor in my opinion,” he said.
In addition to strawberries, those going to roadside markets will find fresh lettuces, spinach and rhubarb, said Eric Barrett, extension educator for Mahoning County.
The next fruits that will be ripe locally are blueberries, followed by raspberries and blackberries, Barrett said. Most of the area’s warm-weather crops such as sweet corn will be available around the Fourth of July.
In addition, some of the area’s larger farmers’ markets already are open, but the smaller ones will begin in the next couple of weeks, he said.
Floyd Davis from Red Basket Farm in Kinsman said the Youngstown-Warren market is starting to catch up with Cleveland and Akron in its demand for fresh, local produce.
Davis does not have a stand at his site because he believes the farm is located in too rural an area, but instead relies on farmers’ markets and area restaurants to sell nearly everything the farm produces.
“More local restaurants are also getting interested in local ingredients,” he said.
Red Basket locally sells at the Howland Farmers Market, which opens in July. The farm offers 70-80 varieties of produce and uses greenhouses combined with outdoor fields to have produce available all year.
Red Basket also offers a community supported agriculture plan where people pay a yearly rate and receive a basket of produce each week during the growing season.