Since 2012, local foodies and fans of home-grown goodies of all kinds have logged on to a virtual Champaign County farmers market all year long – rain or shine, snow or sun.
Champaign County’s was the first online farmers’ market in the state of Ohio. Started with a grant from Activate Champaign County and the Champaign Family YMCA, the virtual farmers’ market’s mission is to provide increased sales opportunities for local producers and consumers while keeping sales dollars in the local economy.
The original goal of the market was to provide access to fresh local products while combating the rising problem of obesity. The current market offers products ranging from farm-fresh eggs, fresh vegetables from a local hydroponic grower and fresh milk from a local dairy to home-made dog treats, artisan soups, honey, raspberries, maple syrup and local meats. A long list of vendors offers a constantly- evolving variety of products.
Shoppers set up an online account, order from the website and pick up their purchases once a week. Since the market’s inception, customers picked up items at the Champaign Family YMCA. With the upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the market officially and permanently moved its pick-up location to Oakview Farm Meats retail shop, located at 1645 state Route 54.
Pam Bowshier has served as the market’s coordinator for several years. Owner of Cosmic Charlie artisan breads, Bowshier is a partner in the food business called Hippie and the Farmer. Her partner Mark Runyan is with Oakview Farm Meats. After the pandemic closed the YMCA in early March, the farm market’s pickup spot hurriedly moved to Oakview’s retail location. Each Thursday afternoon, Bowshier and Runyan collect, coordinate and fulfill the orders. The greenhouse on Oakview’s north side has been filled to the brim the past two weeks with boxes upon boxes of custom-assembled orders.
When the virtual market was formed, it was unique because customers no longer had to accept a pre-determined box of items as dictated by growers and sellers – which was how many such markets were functioning prior to 2012.
Shoppers in the Champaign County virtual market have endless combinations they can assemble, including freshly-baked artisan breads and starter plants.
Although the market had grown and evolved during the past few years under Bowshier’s coordination, the pandemic has provided the spark to ignite a massive upswing in interest and orders.
“We are experiencing an off-the-hook market with record sales, record amount of new people, and a huge dose of love,” Bowshier wrote to her shoppers as the market began to ramp up and shoppers sought to avoid crowded stores. “A huge shout out to all of the customers who ordered from the market, this week! Last week was record breaking … this week we saw numbers that blew last week away!”
Bowshier is jubilant the market is firmly “on the path that was envisioned, so long ago.”
“It’s so crazy that in a few short weeks, our orders have quadrupled in size, we have new customers, regular customers, and customers returning after having not seen them in 5 years!” Bowshier said. “I feel that our little market is a light in all that is going on in the community, and the world. When first faced with a shutdown with the YMCA, we just knew that we could make this work, get the food to the people, and stay within the parameters of which we all seem to exist in, now.
“And, with the success of the market, a newly-energized customer base, a real working farm, and the timing of things such as our grant which is now over, the YMCA needing to shut down, and unable to house the market during this time of pandemic happenings, we felt it was time to explore moving the market site to a new home.”
Bowshier expressed gratitude to the YMCA for its past foundation from which to spring and the continued support. “We are appreciative of our time at the YMCA, and all that the staff has done for us, but we have grown, we have grown up, and we are fully functional on our own,” Bowshier said. Paul Waldsmith, Champaign Family YMCA chief executive officer, gave the official green light to move the market. “He gave us his encouragement to go, take the market to its new level … it’s time to fly,” Bowshier said.
Each Thursday afternoon, Bowshier waits and watches from the bright, cheery greenhouse windows – ensuring the hand-packed boxes are ready to roll. Customers can prepay with credit cards and the market managers will bring the boxes directly to their cars.
Those who still wish to come inside and pay in person are welcome to do so, but only one customer is permitted in the greenhouse at a time. Inside they will find Bowshier in her flower-powered “Hippie” attire that matches her ebullient personality.
But rest assured: the “hippie love” is not too close for comfort because the available prepay system is a significant assistance in maintaining social distancing guidelines under the current state orders to stop the spread of the virus. Customer pick-up is Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. at Oakview Farm Meats. Online orders generally close on Tuesday evenings.
To set up an account with the market or view a list of the vendors and their products – which change with the seasons while also offering standard items all year long – visit https://champaignoh.locallygrown.net/
For questions about the market, contact Bowshier at email@example.com
Brenda Burns is managing editor of the Urbana Daily Citizen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.