By Matt Clevenger
For Miami Valley Today
TROY — The Miami County Locally Grown Virtual Farmer’s Market is extending its pick-up time to 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday evenings, and will also begin loading items directly to customers’ cars in compliance with social distancing guidelines.
“We’ve had to change things recently a little bit,” market manager Jennifer Ruff said. “The last few weeks have made it even easier for customers to shop.”
“We’ve extended our pick-up time, that’s now from 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday evenings,” Ruff said. “If I recognize customers when they come, then I just go grab their orders and take it out to their vehicle. Otherwise people have been calling or texting to let us know they are on their way; when they come we’re just delivering it right to their vehicle so no one even has to get out.”
A non-profit organization, the virtual farmers market has also been designated an essential business, and is not included in the current shutdown order. “People still need to eat,” Ruff said. “We’re like a grocery store, ordering from Kroger online and then going to pick it up at the store is no different than ordering from us and then just picking it up.”
“We talked to the health department about doing the curbside pick-up,” she said. “Since it‘s very little interaction among anyone, and it’s really just running everything out to the vehicles, then it’s no different than the restaurants who are doing curbside pick-up.”
The virtual market website at www.miamicounty.locallygrown.net features more than 30 local farmers, artisans and producers offering a wide range of products from fresh produce, meat, eggs and honey to locally-made baked goods, crafts and soap.
“We have beef, pork and chicken, all the different cuts,” Ruff said. “Out of all the produce we sell the greens, like lettuce, that’s one of our most popular items, and also potatoes.”
“We have several growers who have some sort of greenhouse where they are able to grow through the winter or extend their season,” she said, “so we do offer produce year-round. We can have root crops like potatoes, bulb onions, beets, turnips or even carrots; those are all storage crops, so we can grow those and then have those into the winter to offer, or even something like apples.”
It’s free to sign-up on the market web site, and customers can place online orders anytime between 9 p.m. on Tuesday night through 8 p.m. on Sunday night. “On our market website, we’ve got everything divided up by category like you would see at a grocery store,” Ruff said. “
“You place your order anytime during the week,” she said. “Tuesday evenings at First Place in downtown Troy, that is where the customers come pick-up their orders, and then they pay when they pick-up.”
Although the market draws customers from as far away as Lima, Miamisburg and Greenville, all of the products are grown or produced within 30 miles of the pick-up location in Troy.
“We want it to be truly only local produce,” Ruff said. “Everyone on the market sells only what they themselves grow, so there’s no one doing any re-selling. We want all of the sales to be direct.”
The market also encourages vendors to use local ingredients in their products whenever possible. “Our bakers buy eggs from our egg vendors,” Ruff said, “or they use maple syrup and honey from the honey vendors. They’re trying to incorporate as many local products in their goods as they can, so it’s not just a locally-baked loaf of bread, but bread with local ingredients.”
The virtual market was originally started by Miami County Locally Grown in August 2016, and was modeled after an existing online market in Champaign County. Karen Purke, she took it to the Miami County Local Food Council,” Ruff said. “They were working with the Ohio State University Extension, and got a grant to start the market.”
“We started with 16 producers, and now we have over 30,” she said. “We’re trying to give the smaller producers an outlet to be able to sell reasonably.”
“We were running into people who were struggling,” she said. “Like at some of the shops where they could sell their products, if the mark-up was 35-40 percent they didn’t do enough volume to eat that kind of loss. They couldn’t handle those kind of numbers.”
The market keeps 10 percent of sales, and asks that vendors occasionally volunteer to help out with weekly pick-ups. “It’s hard to describe just how nice a group of people it is,” Ruff said. “We’re all volunteers, just trying to keep the market sustainable and stay at that 10% so we can keep the mark-up low for vendors.”
In addition to online sales, the virtual market also hosts traditional farmer’s markets. “We also do a quarterly night market,” Ruff said. “All of the vendors will come in and set up a traditional farmers market, where the customers come in and shop directly from the farmer, and meet all of their favorite producers.”
A night market was scheduled for Tuesday, April 7 but had to be canceled. “We did postpone it, because of the close proximity,” Ruff said. “We just felt like it was better to wait.”
The next night market is scheduled for Tuesday, May 5. “I’m really hoping that we can have that one,” Ruff said. “The church where we operate has canceled all of their building activities so we were very grateful, because they said that farmer’s markets are essential that they allowed us to continue to operate.”