Living the Local Food Lifestyle

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Residents of Wooster, Ohio, enjoy a year-round supply of fresh, local food.

An innovative new co-op in northeast Ohio provides a model for how to expand local food offerings in winter months. Thanks to the new Local Roots Market & Cafe in downtown Wooster (population 26,000), even in the heart of winter, shoppers can now buy locally grown food such as salad greens, squash, honey, meat, dairy products, baked goods and much more.

Local Roots began with a group of farmers and consumers who dreamed of a year-round, indoor market for local farm products. The producer/consumer co-op model they came up with features a combination retail store and online ordering system that allows producers to market their goods without being physically present. Producers barcode their items before adding them to the store shelves, where information about each farm is prominently displayed. Shoppers simply fill their baskets as at any grocery store and check out at the cash register.

Local Roots grew rapidly in its first year, racking up sales of more than $250,000 from February to November 2010. Ninety percent of all sales are returned to the producers, who make up about a quarter of the co-op’s 541 members. One employee and an army of volunteers staff the co-op.

In an effort to make healthy, locally grown food more accessible to low-income families, Local Roots recently added an Ohio Direction Card (food stamps) machine. Members also are working with area Head Start programs to educate their cooks and clients on cooking and nutrition.

This cheerful, bustling market has quickly become more than just a local food market — it is cultivating community as farmers, shoppers and volunteers share food, laughter and gardening tips. Frequent movie screenings, cooking demonstrations, potlucks and speaker events contribute to this growing sense of community.

In addition, Local Roots partnered with Wayne County Sustainable Energy Network to offer information and encouragement to those seeking more sustainable lifestyles. The market plans to install solar panels, and possibly a wind turbine, on its roof.

Other future plans include more ready-to-eat foods with ingredients sourced from co-op partners, a community kitchen and increased educational outreach.

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