"Pure joy" are the two words Lynne Genter uses to describe her work at the Saturday morning Clintonville Farmers’ Market. Lynne, who founded the neighborhood market in 2003, says she wanted the market to be “more than an errand." She wanted it to be "an experience," and anyone who lives in Clintonville knows that is exactly what the market has become.
Francis Lappe's 1970's classic, Diet for a Small Planet, had long been one of Lynne’s favorite reads. Lynne’s interest in local foods was rekindled in 2001, however, when her then 19-year-old vegan daughter challenged her to pay attention to where and how food is grown. Lynne joined the Columbus Food Shed Project and a local buyers’ club in order to buy local foods. This often strenuous, time consuming work made Lynne wonder, “Why not ask the farmers to come to me?” She also realized that her children, neighbors, and friends were all making an effort to "reconnect with food."
Inspired by another book Lappe wrote with her daughter Anne, Hope’s Edge, an international collection of stories about rebuilding local food systems, Lynne decided to take matters into her own hands.
Lynne founded the Clintonville Farmers' Market in July of 2003. That first season, there were only six farmers, but there was ample community support. High Street shop owners were encouraging, knowing the market would draw in more Saturday customers. The owner of Mozart Bakery provided coffee and sold baked goods at the market to attract a crowd–and at the end of the season donated all proceeds to the market!
Farmers were a harder sell. While some farmers happily accepted Lynne's invitation to sell in Clintonville, other farmers weren't interested or were already committed to other markets. To recruit farmers, Lynne promised to "have people there."
Lynne kept her promise. She canvassed the neighborhood, hung almost twelve hundred flyers on people’s doors, and promoted the market with the local media. The first season was so successful that it was extended by two additional weeks at the farmers' requests. Today, the Clintonville Farmers’ Market continues to draw an overflow crowd of vendors and customers alike.
In January 2010, Lynne stepped down after 7 years as chair of the markets' board. Lynne worked as a volunteer market manager for four seasons, until the market raised enough funds to hire a part-time market manager. Still, Lynne continues to be driven by her original founding purpose: connecting citizens to each other and to the people who grow their food, sourcing better vegetables and cuts of meat, and reducing the amount of time and effort it takes consumers to find quality foods.
Lynne calls the farmers' market "a place for education. People see kohlrabi who have never seen kohlrabi before." As part of this education effort, the market often provides hands-on demonstrations.
At the same time, Lynne has been involved with OEFFA and the Capital Chapter. Lynne hasn't missed an OEFFA conference since her daughter insisted she attend in 2002. Some of Lynne's original farmers' market vendors were OEFFA farmers and Lynne and her husband farm an acre on another OEFFA farmer’s land. Lynne feels that the networks and personal relationships OEFFA has fostered are invaluable. She has connected with people who "value the same growing principles and beliefs in the way in which to nourish your body."
"I think it's important to leave something that can carry on," she says of her achievement. She hopes that attaining a 501(c)(3) non-profit status will contribute to the market's longevity. The market will also continue to rely on the dedication of core board members and volunteers.
For Lynne, the challenges of the market have been the "good" ones associated with accommodating rapid growth, such as finding more space for vendors and public parking. "Now, six seasons down the road, I get up on Saturday morning and go down to the market and there are streams of people walking like a stadium's filling up. Everybody on Saturday morning is going to the farmers' market. They've got wagons, dogs, bags. That makes me proud–to see people whose ritual on Saturdays is to stop at the farmers’ market," she says. Through the market, Lynne has also formed close relationships with her neighbors and their families. She now finds herself invited to neighborly gatherings, even weddings.
Lynne is a local celebrity, but she scoffs at that suggestion. Talking to Lynne, one gets the feeling that she is driven by the simple idea that what is good for her and her loved ones is also good for the community–and she is always willing to share. On a sunny Saturday, Lynn is holding a pie and onions purchased at the market, as the cheerful family crowd swells along the narrow sidewalks.
About the writer: Danielle Deemer is working on her master's degree in Rural Sociology at the Ohio State University. Danielle, through her OEFFA internship, profiled some of the organization's most accomplished members and their successes, creating OEFFA’s Profiles of Success series. Lauren Ketcham has updated and edited content. This series is being unveiled throughout OEFFA's 30th anniversary celebration year.