Wilmington's Homegrown Hope Part 3

May 12, 2010

Clinton County has the highest unemployment rate in Ohio. A local agriculture program called Grow Food Grow Hope in Wilmington is helping during the worst economic crisis the town has seen since the Great Depression. Yesterday, WYSO's Emily McCord reported on how the program is feeding families as they learn how to garden for food. She continues her series "Wilmington's Homegrown Hope" at the local farmers market where selling produce and goods is more important than ever.

"For Some, It's Their Livelihood"

This is a story of a farmer's market that for some, has to transition from a hobby to business. At Swindler's and Son's Florist, the greenhouse out back is doubling as a local shopping center. On this February morning, the heater provides much needed warmth to the open air venue.

Dessie Buchanan weaves through the small crowd. She has bright, clear eyes, and a friendly way about her. And she seems to have a good rapport with the customers. She's been working to help create a year long market for the community-helping the farmers decide what they are going to sell, and where. Dessie says the goal is to raise awareness for local food, and make the market more accessible to the community.

"They're also supporting the local food vendors. For some of the vendors it's more of a hobby, and for some it's their livelihood," says Buchanan.

The winter market is a new idea and one that Dessie has made possible. The summer market had been around a while. For some, like farmer Nancy Pickard, being able to sell year round has made a big difference. She raises cows, chickens, and bakes bread to sell here.

"Right before Thanksgiving and Christmas, it was really good for all of us, and we did better than we were doing than the whole month of September," says Pickard.

Pickard says her family has been hit hard by the economy, and the extra cash, and the exposure, has helped her bottom line. Dessie says, customers tell her all the time how much like the extra opportunities to spend their money locally.

"It's A Chance To Make My Mark"

"My mom had inherited a farm here in Wilmington, and she was luring me back with having a house and a farm," says Buchanan.

Dessie had gone away for college, and lived abroad for a while. When she came home, she got a job at a fitness center, and had recently been promoted. But she heard about what some other young people were doing in the community, and about the Grow Food Grow Hope program.

"I was at the gym one day, and I was like, why don't I just do this? This would be my opportunity to volunteer and help with buy local full time. So, it was just really sort of a light bulb moment," says Buchanan.

Dessie studied anthropology in school, and she says that helped her manage a market. Her background prepared her to observe and participate in different cultural and social situations.

"I had a great job, and a lot of people in town, and even people in my family were like 'why are you giving up this job for less than half of what you're making now?' But it just seemed like the right fit at the time.

Dessie wants to the see the market be sustainable long after her tenure at Grow Food Grow Hope. One of her next steps is to help coordinate a group of board members who'll be in charge of running the market in the future, including some from Clinton County's Green Enterprise Zone.

"I'm a third generation Wilmington. My grandparents were well known here, my parents were well known here, and now people know me. And, it's, you know, now I get to make my mark," says Buchanan.

"I have five grandchildren. Seeing five little grandchildren, I want them to grow up with clean air, and good water," says Dave Bailey, a life long Wilmington resident.

Bailey says he would have never considered himself an environmentalist in the past. And he says he's pro business. Yet, that's precisely why he's involved in Wilmington's Green Enterprise Zone.

"I have to admit, with age, you get a little wiser, I hope I have, and I'm certainly much more environmentally concerned today than I was 20 years ago," says Bailey.

Now, Dave is helping local businesses use sustainable energy grants. Tomorrow, we'll join him and others who are trying to sell that idea to the community.