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Produce to the People

Despite the city’s standing as a culinary capital, Columbus still sadly has its share of food deserts—neighborhoods where fresh fruit is foreign and the shelf-life for groceries at the corner store is scary. Suburban farmers markets may offer premium-priced produce to conscientious consumers, but urban farmers markets have a different mandate. For many living inside [...]
J.R. McMillan



Despite the city’s standing as a culinary capital, Columbus still sadly has its share of food deserts—neighborhoods where fresh fruit is foreign and the shelf-life for groceries at the corner store is scary.

Suburban farmers markets may offer premium-priced produce to conscientious consumers, but urban farmers markets have a different mandate. For many living inside 270 on the west and south sides, they are the only source for vegetables that don’t come in a can.

That’s what inspired Juliette Lonsert and Ruth Thurgood Mundy to found the Westgate Farmers Market last year—not just to serve their own neighborhood, but also the greater Hilltop. The alternating schedule of first and third Saturdays caused initial concern with more than a few prospective vendors. But now some of those same skeptics are fierce defenders of the strategy. It’s a practical interval to keep things literally and figuratively fresh, more so than an every weekend commitment for vendors and volunteers.

There isn’t just one recipe for starting a farmers market, but there are some common ingredients—generous community support and social media savvy are among the most essential.

“Our fundraising so far has been mostly selling t-shirts and yard signs, which we will continue to do because it’s also great promotion for the market,” explained Lonsert. “But we hope to hire a market manager, to handle the operations and volunteers as we continue to grow.”

This summer marked the first step in that expansion with a farm-to-table evening on the lawn of the Westgate Masonic Lodge where the farmers market is held.

“The idea for the farm-to-table dinner was more than just a fundraiser. It was a dining experience you don’t have anywhere near Westgate, and a community experience you don’t really have anywhere else in Columbus,” Lonsert noted.

The seasonal menu was created by Westgate resident and chef, Christopher Vehr. Ingredients were supplied by local vendors, then prepared and served family-style by Vehr and a team of volunteers from the community. Sitting beneath a canopy of leaves and stars sharing a harvest dinner with early autumn in the air and grass under your feet, the connection between the field and the fork couldn’t be more apparent or intimate.

“When you go to a lot of markets, they don’t really have a culinary presence. I think there are a lot of chefs who prefer to use local, seasonal produce. But unfortunately, most restaurant chefs work late on Friday nights, so it’s harder for them to become involved,” Vehr explained. “Events like this create a synergy that’s unavailable even when you go into a restaurant—connecting farmers to the people they serve by showing folks the potential for produce available to everyone at the market.”

Like any other nonprofit, annual events fund the ongoing service mission of the organization, covering overhead while helping to reach a wider audience. But even with earthy endeavors, the internet is still integral.

“We couldn’t serve our community without social media. It’s how we best reach our SNAP and low-income customers,” noted Thurgood Mundy. “We also have a great relationship with Local Matters. They come out and do cooking demos based on what’s in-season and available at the market. Knowing how to prepare foods is a large part of the nutrition gap facing many families.”

“Education is most powerful when combined with an access point. Our work with the Westgate Farmers Market is a family engagement, to get everyone onboard with fresh, healthy food grown locally,” said Adam Fazio, Director of Development with Local Matters. “The family context for food is a benefit that’s often overlooked.”

Franklinton is even farther away from traditional groceries. Despite being a major traffic corridor, there isn’t a single grocery store on Broad Street between downtown and almost the outerbelt.

That’s why the Franklinton Farm Stand is so crucial, and why their schedule is different than most farmers markets. Operating Thursdays and Fridays, as well as Saturdays, better serves the needs of the neighborhood where any other source for fresh produce is a drive or bus-ride away.

“A majority of our customers are walk-ups, and it’s a more convenient time to get their groceries, especially their healthy food options,” explained Josh Aumann, the farm stand’s produce distribution coordinator. The farm stand is the retail face of Franklinton Gardens, which has 12 plots scattered across three acres of land (mostly from gifts and grants) that a mix of local volunteers and AmeriCorps service members have turned into a robust, urban farm network.

Outreach is key in underserved areas, which is why home delivery is also an option, with about half of the participants in their CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program, using EBT and SNAP to help their produce budgets go further.

“The Franklinton Mobile Market is an online storefront. We send out a weekly email to about a hundred households with a list of our produce ready for purchase. They reply, and we deliver it to their doors the next day.”

“Our biggest challenge is getting our name out there. The people who live here see us farming. We need to let them know we’re growing this for them, it’s not going somewhere else,” Aumann said. “We want the people here in Franklinton to have access to the produce being grown in their backyards.”

Starting a farmers market is only slightly harder than keeping one going. That’s the backstory behind the new South Side Farmers Market.

“When members of the Merion Village Farmers Market asked us to take it over, we wanted it to be more inclusive of our neighbors, as we were already the middle point for the south side,” explained Allison Willford, president of the Merion Village Civic Association. “That’s why we changed the name—because it’s everyone’s farmers market.”

The standard schedule had likewise proven restrictive in attracting and maintaining vendors for the former Merion Village market. So the new market was quick to adjust that as well, with an afternoon and evening market anchored by Tatoheads Public House, an already popular neighborhood destination.

“We changed the day from Saturday, because it was harder to compete with some of the more established markets. Thursday nights, people are getting ready for the weekend,” Willford said. “They can come to the market and have a beer, get a bite to eat, and buy fresh produce to take home.”

The geographic reach of the South Side Farmers Market also opened the organization to a larger pool of volunteers. That’s how Ryan Hansen, now one of the organizers, originally became involved.

“A handful of us came together after responding to a food security survey,” he recalled, noting the diverse and collective nature of the new market. “Some of us had leadership experience, some of us just had time on our hands. But that’s what makes it work, not having one person doing everything. This is as grassroots as it gets.”

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Arts & Culture

Q&A: Columbus artist Mandi Caskey wants to bring us together




Photo by John Thorne

Context plays one of the most important roles in our understanding of art. For instance, if you saw the unveiling of Columbus artist Mandi Caskey’s latest masterpiece, you’d probably equate the message to the daily protests that have been held in Columbus over the past week.

When the mural on the abandoned highway overpass near Scioto Audubon Metro Park was started, that wasn’t the case. It was a message meant to distract us from the hardships that COVID-19 flooded our lives with.

Now, to some people, the mural’s message, which stretches over 400 feet, takes on a new meaning.

(614) caught up with Caskey to find out the inspiration behind the piece and how she feels about subjectiveness in art. Check out a brief Q&A below and some incredible aerial footage from photographer/videographer John Thorne.

Obviously a project this big can't be tackled alone. Who all helped bring this idea to life?

This project was originally an idea that I wanted to do secretly aka illegally, but my business partner came up with a better idea. And that was to get other artists involved and pay them during the stay-at-home order. 

The whole time we honestly didn’t think we would be able to get approval on all the permits we needed, but thanks to Lori Baudro, over a month and a half we got permission and permits from the Department of Public Service, ODOT, and the Arts Commission. We were honestly in shock. 

When it came down to businesses, we started working with Tim Cousino, who’s an architect. He figured out all the measurements we needed. From there we had to get our hands dirty and clean the surface of the bridge, which had five 9-foot around dirt piles that we shoveled off.

Once the surface was prepped and ready to go, we had Jacob Bench come out. He’s an engineer that helped translate all of Tim’s measurements. The project would have been 10 times more difficult without him! 

Through the process, we slowly grew the team. David Greenzalis is my partner in crime so he was there from the beginning. Katie Bench, Hawke Trackler, Lisa Celesta, Ariel Peguero, Chris Blain, Patrick Cardwell, Eric Terranova, Sam Rex, and Justin Paul, who has taken the amazing footage everyone has seen. All of these people are passionate, hardworking, and just awesome to be around. I was excited when we all came together. 

From what I've read, it seems like your idea for this was green-lit very quickly and easily. Why do you think people responded to the idea in your message so strongly?

There’s a combination of reasons everything moved so quickly (in terms of government) ha-ha. Part of it was the fact people were at home; they wanted something to get excited about. This was a project people could easily get geeked out about: 400-foot long mural on the bridge that has been abandoned for 10-plus years! I think they just wanted to see if it could happen. Also, the bridge will be torn down in a year or so; this means the mural doesn’t need any upkeep. The fact it was temporary made it an easy Yes for people. Still in shock this all worked out so smoothly.

What roadblocks did you run into during the process of creating the mural?

A big roadblock that no one could help was the weather. Man, was it a beast to work with. When we first started prepping the bridge, it was raining and around 40 degrees outside. We were in coats with gloves for half of the project. Then it rains for almost two weeks straight, which pushed back any painting we wanted to do. The days when we did get to work was easily 95 and scorching! We were all burnt to a crisp! It was stressful but fun working with this crazy Ohio weather.

How do you think art helps people during times of unrest and uncertainty like we're in right now?

Art is truly the bridge between thoughtful conversations and action (pun intended). Public art specifically can be the most impactful since it’s meant to be viewed by everyone. There’s no fee to look at it, no dress code, no need for art knowledge, just acceptance and appreciation are necessary. 

Art in general helps people look outside of their own personal bubbles. We can see into someone else’s mind for a split second and become apart of the art and experience. I think we forget that art is a living representation of us, but I hope through this unsure time we start to remember why humans started painting in the first place.

I think there's something to be said about how the mural was made on the basis of the coronavirus pandemic and bringing people together and now it can take on the meaning of the social change that needs to happen in this world. What are your thoughts on that?

Originally the mural was made because I personally felt alone and knew so many other people were feeling the same way during the stay-at-home orders. Once the project actually started to become a real thing, “we are stronger together” became more about the people who were working together; so many different types of backgrounds and artists. People from different periods in my personal life, all coming together and making something epic. 

When it was all said and done, the words are made for everyone, from any background, race, gender, far and wide. It’s a message that I hope makes people know I’m with them, that no matter the craziness in the world, someone’s got your back.


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Arts & Culture

Columbus artists employed to paint boarded-up downtown for #ArtUnitesCbus




The Columbus arts community has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to trying to unite and inspire during tumultuous times. One of the latest efforts from visual artists around the area includes CAPA and Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) latest partnership, #ArtUnitesCbus.

“When I do these projects, I try to remember to have fun and enjoy my loved ones. Even though it’s a bad time, there’s always room for love,” visual artist Hakim Callwood said.

The creative venture will exist to employ around 20 Columbus visuals artists. Their job will be to paint murals in place of the broken windows at the Ohio Theater and GCAC office. 

The art installations are expected to be finished by the end of the week.

“#ArtUnitesCbus is just one small way the arts community is trying to help. These murals are not the answer, simply a message that we ALL can, and must, help heal our community,” said Tom Katzenmeyer, President & CEO of the Arts Council, in a GCAC press release on Monday

Now more than ever is an extremely important time to give our community artists a platform. 

“The Columbus artists are more of a family than I think people understand,” Callwood said. “Whether we all talking every day or hanging out together; it doesn’t matter. When there’s times of need we always use our talents to support.” 

Check out the progress of their murals below.

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Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause




To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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