As a chef and a relatively new resident of Wheeling, I was so excited when the farmers’ markets began to open up for the season. I immediately wanted to make a project out of attending them all.
Besides growing up in a family full of “foodies,” I got my real start as a culinary professional volunteering for and working as a market manager for the GrowNYC markets in New York City.
I can think of no better way to spend the early morning hours of a Saturday or the late afternoon hours of a Tuesday perusing the goods and chatting with farmers at a market.
I failed to initially realize the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic would have on my love of the market. I miss feeling like I can linger, picking out my own produce and walking up to stands with other customers who sometimes become new friends. Like everything else these days, attending the market comes with its own new set of rules and is a little less fun that it used to be. That being said, farmers need us to show up like never before.
When I was farming for a living, about 80 percent of my income came from selling to restaurants. Restaurants have been closed or operating a very low volume for months now. Supporting local farmers directly at the market when they may have lost other streams of revenue due to COVID-19 is more important than ever. Showing up on the rainy day at the market to buy even more than the sunny week before is more important than ever.
Where: St. Michael’s Church, 1225 National Road, Wheeling
Lots of parking and COVID-19 safety measures are in place at the Wheeling Farmers’ Market. You’ll find veggies, meat, eggs, fruit, jam, bread and popcorn here. Vendors and customers wear masks, and signage is very clear about social distancing and one customer at a time per stand. Farmers will select your produce and bag it for you. My market favorites at this one are Eric Freeland’s berries and freshly dug potatoes and Blended Homestead’s eggs and unique roster of homegrown veggies. Have you ever seen a lemon cucumber or a patty pan squash? The Blends have them!
The Saturday I attended this market, there was live music (a bonus!) and a lively atmosphere. There is a COVID-19 response on the website for the market, but I did not encounter many stands where vendors wore masks, and few, if any, customers wore masks or practiced social distancing. I’ll admit to having not stuck around for too long as I’m limiting my own exposure to COVID-19 for the sake of family members and coworkers. I got some fantastic green beans (my first of the season), and I noticed a nice-sized pile of the very first sweet corn a little farther into the market.
While this market was small (it’s the first year), there was a good selection of locally grown produce, eggs and popcorn. I got some fresh Romano-style (wide, flat) green beans, jalapenos, broccoli and huge freshly dug onions. Vendors wore masks and bagged produce for customers.
Vendors were very spread out at this market, and all produce was handled by vendors. It’s held in a spacious park. There was a great selection of seasonal vegetables and fruit. Also, there were locally produced crafts (beautiful handmade baskets!), so it’s a great market to stop by for ingredients and special gifts.
Where: 139 South Main St., Washington, Pennsylvania
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This was by far the biggest market and the farthest away I traveled to. My favorite thing about this market was the abundance of producer-only stands and local fruit! I bought cherries, strawberries, plums and blueberries, all locally grown. There were gorgeous eggplants and heritage breed lamb chops. There were locally produced wines, bread, honey and pastries. The market is under a huge pavilion, so it’s nice and cool, and there is parking on surrounding streets and in the parking lot of the bank next door (after hours). I might not travel this far every week for food, but it was easy to stop at The Highlands on the way back on the same day and support even more farms. COVID-19 protocol involved all vendors and customers wearing masks, one at a time at a stand, one-way aisles and vendors picking out produce for customers.
The hardest thing to avoid at the farmers’ market this time of year is over buying. Everything looks so fresh and delicious, and it’s all fleeting. I want to eat as many local cherries as possible before they are gone, and as many cucumber salads as I can before they become tasteless winter cucumbers. The key to not buying more than you can eat and wasting money and food, is to shop more often. I like to get enough fresh produce for a few meals and some fruit that might last a week. I’ll pick out two or three really ripe and ready-to-go tomatoes and maybe three more that need four more days on the counter to ripen. With markets on so many days of the week, it’s easy to get what you need, when you need it in the Ohio Valley.
I also love to put my juicer to use in the summer to use up those fruits that are looking like “seconds.” It’s so easy to make a quick gazpacho in the blender out of cucumbers and soft tomatoes. I frequently freeze fresh berries to take out later and make jams, pies, marinades or smoothies.
In between markets, I love shopping at the Public Market (full disclosure, I work there). You can still order for curbside pickup without setting foot in the store. And if you’ve got other commitments during the outdoor market hours or just want to sleep in on a Saturday, you’ve got a much wider range of hours to support local farmers in the region and get the freshest produce all under one roof. Many of the same farmers sell at the Public Market and the farmers’ markets.
You can find fresh local produce, meats, fruit and dairy all week long in our surrounding area, and it’s my sincere hope that you take advantage while all of this is fresh and wonderful – before the first frost sets in late in the fall.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite summer salad recipes.
HEIRLOOM TOMATO AND CUCUMBER SALAD
(with honey mustard vinaigrette and microgreens)
For the dressing:
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons stone ground mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
1 large heirloom tomato
2 medium cucumbers
¼ cup shaved red onion
¼ cup shaved fennel
½ cup fresh basil leaves (sliced thin)
Microgreens and edible flowers for garnish
In a medium sized colander, place the heirloom tomatoes (cut into bite-sized pieces) and the cucumber (peeled and sliced about ½-inch thick). Add a little salt and mix well. Let them sweat with the salt to release excess moisture, for about 15 minutes.
To make the dressing,in a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey, mustard and lemon juice. Slowly begin to add the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the salad, mix the tomatoes and cucumbers with the red onion, basil and fennel in a medium bowl. Dress with the honey mustard dressing and scoop it all into your favorite serving bowl. Top with pretty microgreens and edible flowers just before serving.
• Melissa Rebholz was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, to a Sicilian/German family. She grew up in a household revolving around food. In 2007, a summer of volunteering for GrowNYC (New York City’s Farmer’s Markets) led her down the path to culinary school at The Natural Gourmet Institute and 10 subsequent years of farming from Long Island to Sonoma to Tennessee. Working simultaneously in kitchens to support her farming habit, Melissa migrated back to the rustbelt in October of 2019 to help Grow Ohio Valley open the Public Market as the head chef. Her hobbies include foraging, baking, dinner parties and exploring her new home of Wheeling, West Virginia.