Fresh apples from Quiroz Farm are available for purchase at the market.

Farmers’ Markets | Taste Test

Do you know where your food comes from? It’s a question you may not be able to answer without naming your favorite grocery store. But how does it get there? Where is it raised? How fresh is it? What is sprayed on the crops? Why are those strawberries so large? You may have asked yourself a few of these questions before, or perhaps you’d rather not think about it.

Vegetables grown by Ben Detweiler with Hillside Produce in Carroll County at the Alliance Farmers’ Market.
Vegetables grown by Ben Detweiler with Hillside Produce in Carroll County at the Alliance Farmers’ Market.
Do you know where your food comes from? It’s a question you may not be able to answer without naming your favorite grocery store. But how does it get there? Where is it raised? How fresh is it? What is sprayed on the crops? Why are those strawberries so large? You may have asked yourself a few of these questions before, or perhaps you’d rather not think about it.

Fortunately, we live in bountiful Stark County, surrounded in nearly every direction by farmland, so in the summer months at least, there’s no reason not to know exactly where your food originates. Farmers’ markets have popped up in nearly every community, enabling us to meet the growers, talk to the cattle farmers, ask those questions, and make a conscious decision to support folks that still know how to live off their land. We explored four markets in different parts of the county, all offering us a way to eat fresh, shop local and discover what farm-to-table really means.

Alliance Farmers’ Market
Gluten-free brownies by Lyndsey Todor, also at the Alliance Farmers’ Market.
Gluten-free brownies by Lyndsey Todor, also at the Alliance Farmers’ Market.

Alliance Farmers’ Market is an urban market of about two dozen vendors, set up each Saturday in the center of town. In its seventh season, AFM boasts the most produce vendors of any of the markets we visited, many hailing from east of Alliance in farm-heavy areas such as Carroll and Columbiana counties. Here you’ll see a lot of true farmers—the kind who get their hands dirty and wear suspenders to keep their jeans up. Fresh flowers are plentiful thanks to DeHoff Flowers of Alliance, and 100 percent pure honey can be found for modest prices at Marshall Apiary, also out of Alliance.

The market is bustling with people, even early in the morning, so it’s best to arrive early to get first pick of the goods.

Vendors of note include Shady Lane Bakery of Carrollton, whose offerings include deliciously moist banana and zucchini bread, cookies, pastries and pies.

I noticed its offering of maple syrup, which I learned (by asking) is harvested each spring on its own property. It takes anywhere from 50 to 75 gallons of sap to generate a single gallon of maple syrup. The things you learn by simply talking to vendors will surprise you; there’s no friendlier place to be than an open-air market on a sunny summer morning.

Produce from Hannah Farms of Hartville at the Canton Farmers’ Market.
Produce from Hannah Farms of Hartville at the Canton Farmers’ Market.
Canton Farmers’ Market

Canton Farmers’ Market is a thriving downtown market held each Saturday morning from June through October. Plentiful locally grown produce is proudly displayed from a variety of growers, including Marlboro Township’s Maize Valley, which sells its crop from the back of its classic 1952 Ford F5 farmer’s market truck.

Maize Valley Farm Market and Winery offers an assortment of goods at the Canton Farmers’ Market.
Maize Valley Farm Market and Winery offers an assortment of goods at the Canton Farmers’ Market.

Hannah Farms, also near Hartville, offers a host of fresh veggies at reasonable prices—greenleaf, redleaf, Boston and romaine lettuce all can be found for a modest $1.50/head. Stop for a morning pick-me-up at Carpe Diem’s coffee stand.

One of my favorite vendors is Ohio Farm Direct out of Fredericktown, offering a surprising spread of grass-fed products including summer sausage, drinkable yogurt and, best of all, cheese.

In addition to traditional varieties (baby Swiss, cheddar, Gouda, feta), it brings about a dozen unique varieties to market, including novelties such as Port Wine, Colby Dill and Lemon Zest. A few nibbles of its generous sampling and you’ll be taking some home.

Canton’s market has live music, too, and even a few artsy vendors, such as Bad Apple Originals, selling a slew of snarky handmade greeting cards, with sentiments you won’t find at Hallmark.

Hawk Meats offers North Canton Farmers’ Market goers more options when it comes to meat and eggs.
Hawk Meats offers North Canton Farmers’ Market goers more options when it comes to meat and eggs.
North Canton Farmers’ Market

Next, North Canton is a small but mighty market, with a few very solid vendors that make it worth a visit on Saturday mornings if you live in the area. It’s set up in the parking lot behind Main Street Grille; parking is readily available in adjacent lots.

Vendors of note include Log Cabin Produce, which consistently delivers a bounty of lettuce, zucchini, seasonal berries, gorgeous fat onions and other produce.

Hawk Meats offers North Canton Farmers’ Market goers more options when it comes to meat and eggs.
Hawk Meats offers North Canton Farmers’ Market goers more options when it comes to meat and eggs.
Like most farmers, the staff is friendly and will state what’s best for the day, as well as how to cook it if the shopper is unsure.

Another great vendor is Hawk Meats. It’s a family affair at the Hawk tent: A little girl about 8 years old sold me eggs. While I peeped out the “menu” of meats they sell, Sam Hawk (the girl’s grandfather) struck up a conversation.

Hawk probably does a lot of talking to shoppers like me, who yearn to support local economy but shy away from spending $7 a pound for ground beef when they can buy it for $2.99 at the grocery store.

But after a 20-minute conversation, I learned the real secret: purchasing a quarter steer from Hawk. This provides the opportunity to enjoy every cut—succulent roasts, tender steaks and tasty burgers.

All this from his grass- and grain-fed beef cattle in East Rochester, for a fraction of the cost at the farmers’ market and of quality not found at the grocery store.

Gervasi’s Farmers’ Market
The Olive Tap owner Harry Eadon talks with Rosemarie, Liz and Chuck Hoover.
The Olive Tap owner Harry Eadon talks with Rosemarie, Liz and Chuck Hoover.

On Wednesday nights, visitors find Gervasi’s Farmers’ Market is a different animal altogether. The market is set up on the path that leads to the pavilion, as well as inside the pavilion itself. There are many vendors, most of whom lend themselves more to the “artisan” category than true farmers, which makes for a welcome variety. Two things make this market special.

First, Muggswigz is serving iced coffees and chai tea lattes—which means if you’re not downtown every day, you can sample some of the best coffee roasted right here in Stark County.

And second, almost all of the vendors sample their goods. On a typical day, you might sample roasted red pepper relish served on a cracked wheat cracker and sprinkled with feta, seasoned garlic-infused olive oil, a 17-year-old aged balsamic, cinnamon raisin bread, blueberry jalapeno jelly and a scrumptious sliver of fudge.

Opposite page: Hazel Artisan Bakery offers fresh bread at Gervasi’s Farmers’ Market.
Opposite page: Hazel Artisan Bakery offers fresh bread at Gervasi’s Farmers’ Market.

In true Gervasi fashion, I blew my budget (when in Rome!) with the $16 bottle of the aged balsamic from BJ Gourmet Garlic. This vendor surely will cater to your addiction to all things dunk-able with a French baguette. The balsamic was superb; it is thick and sweet, with a consistency much more like a reduction, even straight out of the bottle.

If a hurricanelike storm hadn’t blown in as I was shopping, I would have picked up a baguette at Hazel Artisan Bakery, which also has a stand at the market and, arguably, the best loaves in Stark County.

On a sweeter note, Chocolates by Erin brings a bounty of dreamy chocolate concoctions from her home base in Massillon, including the most decadent chocolate-and-salty-pecan-covered marshmallow ever made. Note of caution: I passed on the produce because I saw more variety and lower prices at other markets—one vendor was asking $4/head for lettuce, found at other markets for half the price.

These four markets are just a sampling—be sure to check out all the area markets to get your fresh and local food fix. Once you’ve bitten into a juicy ripe tomato grown in Northeast Ohio, you just might never again look at “grocery” shopping the same way.

Alliance Farmers’ Market
Time: 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through October 18
Place: parking lot at the corner of E. Main St. and Mechanic Ave.
alliancefarmersmarket.com

Canton Farmers’ Market
Time: 8 to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays through October 18
Place: Timken High School Administrative building parking lot, at the corner of Fourth St. NW and McKinley Ave. NW
cantonfarmersmarket.com

North Canton Farmers’ Market
Time: 8:30 a.m to noon Saturdays through September 27
Place: rear parking lot of St. Paul’s Catholic Church parking lot and the Main St. Grille at 123-139 S. Main St.
msgrille.com/ncfarmersmarket

Gervasi’s Farmers’ Market
Time: 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through September 24
Place: 1700 55th St. NE, Canton
GervasiVineyard.com