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Local Roots: Great Food in an Ohio Town

(post, Deborah Madison)

Wooster, a small college town about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, has a summer farmers market but nothing happens in the winter. The health food store I visited in search of a lipstick didn’t appear to be championing local foods, but Local Roots Market and Cafe is a new co-op that now fills these gaps. Located in an spacious old store-front that was once the home to farm machinery, there are wooden tables for the various farm products (the farmers need not be there), a cash-register, cold cases, the bakery area and a meeting room fitted out with information on gardens, seed catalogues, pamphlets etc. A group seed order is in the offing, and there is enough space available for future projects, such as a kitchen where people can make jams and other foods for sale. They’ve already shown Food Inc. and held a discussion following the film, something we do at our farmers market in Santa Fe.

Even though the store wasn’t officially open for business the night I visited, I saw eggs from several farmers, many different cuts of grass fed beef and lamb, maple sugar and syrup, honey, sesame crackers and spelt crackers plus some baked goodies for good dogs, corn for popping, little butternut squash as well as giant Musqee de Provence, several varieties of potatoes, beautiful plump shallots, a variety of cow’s milk cheeses and some terrific recycled but freshly printed tee shirts.  I am the proud owner of one that says “Soil, Not Oil”.  After reading Plenty and knowing how badly the authors yearned for flour to make bread with within the limits of their 100 mile diet, I thought it was especially auspicious for anyone trying the same experiment that Local Roots also showcased both spelt and wheat flours.

I thought this was a pretty decent showing of wholesome things to eat for February in cold, snowy Ohio, and it didn’t even include the fresh foods farmers would bring a few days later, (which they did, despite the snow) tatsoi, arugula, salad mix, radishes, turnips, and breads of all kinds.  Wild black walnuts and hickory nuts, two unusual varieties that I recommend in my new book, Seasonal Fruit Desserts along with maple sugar, can also be found here. Maple sugar is hands down my favorite sweetener and hard to find outside of places like this co-op. I came home with both a bag of the sugar and a dozen gorgeous eggs from roaming chickens and have already used both. Next visit I plan to delve into the unusual selection of jams and conserves featuring local wines and other ingredients, such as a Chardonnay and Lemon Verbena jelly, or one made with Merlot and black peppercorns.

Local Roots mission is “to establish a year-round market place for the purpose of connecting consumers and producers of locally grown foods and other agricultural products. Our goals are to encourage healthy eating, expand local economic development, promote community involvement, and sustainable living.”

Membership in the co-op isn’t necessary but is encouraged, as are volunteers, for this is truly a grass roots movement.  The web site, tells it all. Although the co-op is just getting started and figuring out what it is and wants to be, I’ll bet that within a year Local Roots will have put out runners, and it wouldn’t surprise me if before they know it, they’ll be a model for others who want to serve their own communities. For now, bravo to all who put this wonderful effort together!