By Linda Dillman
Whether it’s wrangling a baby goat or delivering a cold bottle of water to an
overheated vendor, Canal Winchester Farmer’s Market Manager Karen Stiles wears many hats.
Prior to her hiring as the director of Destination: Canal Winchester, Stiles served as a board member for several years and was a frequent market volunteer.
“The Canal Winchester Farmer’s Market is a Destination: Canal Winchester function and so once I took over as director, it became my responsibility,” said Stiles, who later decided to pursue certification as a market manager. “When I took over the Farmer’s Market, I just did what seemed to make sense, but other than volunteering to work the market in the past, I couldn’t say I had any hard and fast rules for the market, nor any training.”
According to Stiles, in the fall of 2018, two market masters from central Ohio formed the Central Ohio Farmers Market Network and applied for a grant from the Michigan Farmers Market Association for the Farmers Market Certification program offered through Michigan State.
“This allowed those who were running area markets to enroll in their Farmers Market Certification program at a discounted rate. I didn’t enroll because I felt it was important to become certified—I enrolled to learn more about what makes a successful market ,” said Stiles. “I want to make our Canal Winchester Farmer’s Market a stronger market that is able to offer our community more variety. I want to make our market a stronger market for both our shoppers and our vendors.”
The initial certification course required three days of classroom meetings and six webinars. After each webinar, a test was administered and had to be passed before moving on to the next one. The capstone of the course is creating a 10 minute video talking about the local market.
“I learned I was doing a lot right, but that I also had some changes to make,” Stiles said. “The certification program is a strong program and those who participate must continue each year with required course work to maintain the certification.”
After receiving certification, Stiles has a better understanding of how to grow and market the Canal Winchester venue.
“I also realized as a manager I needed to create stricter policies and procedures including safety procedures in the event of accidents, etc.,” said Stiles. “Additionally, as a part of the certification program, I am a member of the Central Ohio Market Managers. We get together to share ideas and help each other.”
Stiles said her plans for the future include growing the size of Canal Winchester market. One challenge she faces are the 13 markets in central Ohio on Saturday mornings, some of which are much larger, such as the Clintonville and Worthington farmer’s markets.
“This means I’m competing for vendors against markets that have 50 to 75 vendors compared to our 30 or so vendors,” Stiles said. “This makes it harder to attract vendors because obviously the larger markets attract larger crowds and often larger crowds equal higher sales for the vendors. We currently have a variety of vendors with a variety of products, but I would still like to see us grow.”
On a recent Saturday, while a musician played a dulcimer and visitors milled about under sunny skies, vendors offered freshly baked breads and scones, vegetables and bright blossoms plucked that morning from nearby fields lined tables and a ceramic artist displayed her handiwork.
Stiles was clutching a baby goat—the market’s mascot—to the delight of younger patrons who gingerly petted the small animal during the family friendly outdoor venue.
“Truly, I find our market a wonderful place to be,” said Stiles. “The market is held at Stradley Park in historical downtown Canal Winchester and this in itself is a wonderfully relaxing place to be. We have a variety of vendors so our visitors can find anything from fresh produce and baked goods to wonderful pottery, handmade soaps and lotions, honey, granola, dog treats and local beef and pork.”
One of central Ohio’s longest running outdoor markets, the Canal Winchester Farmers’ Market is in its 21st season in historic downtown Canal Winchester near Stradley Park, 36 S. High St., each Saturday through Sept.28 (rain or shine) from 9 a.m. to noon.
For information visit thecwfm.com, destinationcw.org, or contact Karen Stiles at 614-270-5053. The market will be closed on July 27 to accommodate the Canal Winchester Blues & Ribfest.