Virtual Farmer’s Market Offers Year-Round Variety of Local Produce, Goods   
By Matt Bayman
  The Miami County Locally Grown Virtual Market allows shoppers to support a wide range of local growers, artisans and producers while receiving a year-round supply of fresh produce and goods from one central location in Troy.  

  “We are a 100 percent grower-produced market. The items listed by each of our producers is grown in their gardens, baked in their homes and created with their hands,” said Jennifer Ruff, director of the market.
Featuring around 30 vendors and hundreds of items, all producers involved in the market live within 30 miles of downtown Troy. Items they offer vary from week to week and season to season, but can include: vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, baked goods, pastas, desserts, dairy products, jams, jellies, fruit butter, dried herbs and mixes, teas, maple syrup, honey, sorghum and other foods, plus soaps, fresh flowers, live plants, body care products and artisan crafts for the kitchen and home. A number of vendors also offer organic and naturally grown and/or chemical free produce and gluten-free items throughout the year.

  The market works in two parts and is free to use.
  First, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. a list of available products is sent by e-mail to everyone with a free Miami County Locally Grown Virtual Market account. Customers use this list to place their orders for the following week, which can be done through Sunday evening. Then, after producers have dropped off and sorted their orders, customers can pick up the fresh items between 4:30-7:30 p.m. every Tuesday at First Place Christian Center, 16 W. Franklin St. in downtown Troy. 

   The church is also where Miami County Locally Grown hosts four night markets each year, two in the spring and two in the fall fall. During these times, the public can purchase directly from the growers and producers and also meet them face to face.

  The spring public markets were originally scheduled for April 7 and May 5. The first one has been canceled, but, as of April 1, the May 5 event is still on. They are free to attend and always feature free samples from a number of vendors. It’s also a good way to learn about the Virtual Market.

  Shoppers using the Virtual Market have a chance to experience local flavor during each season of the year.
  “We’re fortunate to have multiple growers who extend their growing season year-round with different types of heated and unheated greenhouses,” Ruff said. “So even throughout the winter, we’ve never had a week without some type of produce being offered.”

  This includes garlic, lettuces, spinach, kale, chard, microgreens, arugula, fresh herbs and “famous sweet carrots from Simple Living Farm,” Ruff said, referencing one of the market vendors.

  As spring approaches, vendors offer a variety of root crops, such as beets and potatoes, followed by asparagus, berries, snow peas and radishes in the spring. After this, the sky’s the limit.

  “In the spring, summer and fall we offer everything you’d expect to see in the way of produce at a farmer’s market,” Ruff said. “And with some of the harvest windows being very short, such as asparagus, strawberries, elderberries and garlic scrapes, we have to enjoy them while they last, and preserve some to enjoy throughout the year.”

  Ruff said this is one of her favorite parts of operating the market, that is, helping people to “eat seasonally.”
  “Part of the beauty with shopping truly local is learning what it means to eat seasonally,” she said. “I love the opportunity to talk to people about why we do not and should not be able to offer tomatoes in February or spinach mid-summer after it’s bolted. Or, when folks taste fresh raspberries that were picked in the sunshine that day, we can talk about the difference between conveniently picking up berries in whatever month you want (at the grocery store) versus the freshness and vibrancy of a truly fresh local berry eaten peak-season.”

  “So that’s also a big goal – getting people to understand on one hand that with season-extension techniques, it’s possible for us to offer ripe tomatoes at Thanksgiving, but to also take advantage of bumper summer crops when we are harvesting such bounties that we’re able to offer quantity discounts for folks to freeze or can and use through the winter.” 

  Speaking of tomatoes, when they are in season, Ruff said there are many to choose from. “Come summer, we have something like a half-a-dozen people offering tomatoes of every size and color of the rainbow,” she said, adding that vendors often bring in extras and host spontaneous sales during the market pick-up time on Tuesdays.

  Along with attending an upcoming Night Market, the best way to learn more about the Virtual Market is to visit them online HERE. The website contains information on each of the growers/producers involved in the market, a questions and answers section about the market and its services, recipes and information on how to become a customer or vendor.

  Ruff stresses that becoming a vendor at the market is about becoming part of a group effort.
  “We need people who are willing to be part of a community effort, a true partnership among our farmers and artisans, not simply another outlet for advancing their own businesses.  Every one of us, whether selling is a hobby, supplemental income, or the way we've chosen to make a living, is more successful as we promote and support each other, as well as network with each other. As the market grows, we all will prosper together as we fill a niche in the community.”