Returning home from a new farmers’ market in Wooster, Ohio last Saturday (Nov. 21), I passed a scene in a farm field that might have said more about where farming is headed than any economist’s prediction I have seen lately. Out in a clover field stood a big yellow school bus full of chickens [not the one shown above]. Actually the chickens were mostly scampering in the pasture or running up and down the ramp that led into the bus. We all know about chicken tractors, but this is the first chicken bus I’ve seen. I didn’t have time to stop and check it out but I presume that when the henhouse needs to be moved to another spot in the field, or wherever, the farmer just drives it. The world’s first self-propelled chicken coop. If the motor is no longer running, one can hitch a tractor to it. Easier than pulling a coop on skids, I’d think.
After that rather revolutionary if un-bucolic scene, it was easy for me to remain excited about Local Roots, the indoor farmers market where I had spent much of the day signing books and talking to farmers and their customers. I had worried beforehand that so late in the season, market gardeners wouldn’t have much to sell. Wrong. Along with all kinds of late vegetables, fall greens and fruit, various booths offered greenhouse- grown produce, grass-fed beef and lamb, fresh and frozen pork products, chicken, duck, and other poultry, eggs, goat cheeses, maple syrup, jams and jellies, breads, muffins, scones, cookies, crackers, spiced nuts, homemade soaps, goat milk lotion, wool and yarn. Most significant of all, there were lots of customers. That was doubly impressive because on the same afternoon, Ohio was celebrating its most sacred religious event: the Ohio State-Michigan football game.
The Wooster Local Foods Cooperative, under the banner of Local Roots and Cafe, is an example of where local food distribution is heading. There are two outdoor summer markets in Wooster already. Local Roots extends the marketing season to the whole year and the product lines to just about any locally grown and processed food you can imagine. I suggested, trying to keep a straight face, that someday there might be a little bar featuring locally-grown, organic martinis. The truth is not quite that imaginative, but almost. When renovation is complete, there will be room and equipment for processing grains and preparing foods for them, a butcher shop, and a demonstration kitchen. Customers will soon be able to order food online and pick it up on designated days.
The large building that the cooperative is renovating for their indoor market is in the center of the town. The project has the full support of the city, from which the co-op is renting the building. The increased consumer traffic will benefit all of downtown so everyone in officialdom seems to be enthusiastic. The center will also act as a place where local food-related workshops can be held and groups can get together for other educational events. The co-op also makes every effort to keep customers closely informed about the membership farms supplying the food.
Both buyers and sellers can become members of the cooperative but one does not have to be a member to shop there. The co-op plans to provide personnel to help man the booths so that farmers don’t have to be tied up at the center during busy work days on the farm. I believe that is a fairly new idea. To keep the whole community informed about the center’s activities and about local foods in general, the co-op puts out a colorful monthly newsletter. Included in it is a list of foods in season for the current month, recipes and articles about healthful foods and ecological practices. The directors come from all walks of life and can therefore bring varied expertise to the daunting job of organizing and operating the market. I know several of them personally and am amazed at the range and depth of innovative thinking they represent. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is calling Local Roots “a model for a local food distribution network.”