Creating Community at The Keller Market House

Reader Contribution by Wendy Gregory; Photos Martin Barker
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Keller Grocery in downtown Lancaster, Ohio bustled with activity and provisions for the growing town from just after the Civil War to the year World War I broke out. Since 1914 it has been many other businesses and even a church. The building is once again bustling with groceries, produce and even handcrafts sourced from local farmers, bakers and craftspeople. The original floorboards creak and the tin ceiling welcomes a new generation of shoppers. Part of the revitalization of the historic downtown and surrounded by small boutiques, antique shops and a growing number of restaurants and a microbrewery, the Keller Market House is a hub of community, a meeting place, and oversees the popular seasonal farmers’ market.

 

With a belief that fresh foods are fundamental to health and that welcoming public spaces are critical to the health of the downtown and the community, this year-round, indoor market with over 80 vendors has accomplished much in the last three years. The aisles are filled with locally grown seasonal produce, sauces, jams, spices, honey, meats and baked goodies.

Soaps and locally made natural body cares concoctions scent the air with lavender and other fragrant herbs. Jewelry and stained glass catch the light on a sunny day and handmade wooden cutting boards delight the eye with rich cherry wood. Keller Market provides an outlet for local producers to get their goods right to the consumer throughout the year.

 

Taking over the downtown Farmers Market and moving to the lot behind the Market House has helped drive traffic to the storefront on Saturdays and that is now their highest sales day.  It also brought more vendors into the store and helped those who were only selling on Saturdays to increase sales and forge relationships with consumers by having their products available all week and not just on Farmers Market day.

Erin Harvey, market manager, is seeing an increase in the demand for local food and an increase in opportunities for local farmers/homesteaders, bakers and home-based food production. One couple relocated from Florida to start farming and selling at the Market and the Farmers’ Market because of the local demand. A goal for the future is to provide business support and guidance for new farmers and producers.

 

As a nonprofit, Keller market House has received grant support from the Fairfield County Foundation to start the nonprofit at the beginning and recently a $14,000 grant for a new kitchen. Due to be completed this winter, the kitchen will provide a place for cooking classes, a commercial kitchen space for caterers for events in the Market meeting space, and a future pop-up coffee shop used by commercial outfits.

 

The business model relies on volunteers, community support, and grants to keep the costs down and the percentage going to the producers of food remains high while keeping dollars in the community. The Market board consists of  local business professionals, culinary artists and farmers with the vision and passion to build a community around eating locally and well.

Wendy Gregoryspent her career working with children as a culinary and gardening teacher in an arts-based summer camp for at-risk children in Nelsonville, Ohio, and as the director of a children’s museum in Lancaster, Ohio. She is a freelance writer exploring the ways seniors can contribute, grow, and reinvent themselves in a new chapter of life. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


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