(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — With the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly in check and restrictions essentially removed throughout nearly every corner of the county, Edinboro Market has brought back its classes.
The market, on the 100 block of Erie Street in Edinboro, features products that are made within a 150-mile radius of the store. That may seem distant, but consider that Pittsburgh already is about 110 miles driving the straight shot down Interstate 79 — 40 miles beyond to the south, and you’ve hit the limit. Many of those products are sold on consignment at the market, meaning the producers (farmers, crafters) get a space on the shelves and the market sells it for them for a fee.
Before the pandemic, the market had offered four classes per season, but those classes were put on hold for safety’s sake. Now, the market is bringing those classes back. Those classes included topics like “the science of chocolate,” “raising backyard chickens,” “making homemade yogurt,” and “Mighty Microgreens.” On May 10, community members who attended classes through the market learned to make homemade pasta. They learned how to roll the dough by hand, how to use a hand-cranked pasta maker machine, and how to use a pasta attachment for a standing mixer.
On May 15, the market will host a class on dehydrating food. Both of the classes are made possible through a grant the market received from the Erie County Department of Health.
To choose which classes are offered, the market posts a list of potential class topics and asks customers to vote on which they’d like to learn about. The classes are intended to connect people back to the food that they eat.
“If you went to my grandmother, she could cut up the chicken, make the jams and jellies — a lot of the food came off their farm. We have a really nice-sized garden, and when we got married our favors were salsas and jellies that we made at home… there’s something special about making it yourself,” said Marti Martz, who co-founded the market with her husband, Curtis Hals. “We understand how many ways people are pulled, but some of these skills are so easy, and they are almost therapeutic. When my kids were little we used to cook together and it’s just a good time to spend together, and talk about your day, and then sit down together and eat that meal at the end.
“That may not appeal to everybody, but we would like to be a place to offer that option to folks who want it.”
The market is a 501(c)3 organization, specifically for education. The classes are one of the ways they continue educating the community.
In conversations with the co-founders, it’s clear that connecting the community to food goes beyond just the preparation. In fact, throughout the store “producer profiles” are posted with many of the products. The profiles include a brief description about the farm or crafter, and it outlines what makes the product special.
“We’re trying to promote small farms and connect our customers with those folks who are doing the making and the growing. When you know the story of where your food comes from — not everybody is interested, but lots of people are interested,” Martz said. “We can tell you who is raising the chickens, how they process them, what they’re feeding them.”
Livia Homerski has worked at the market since August 2021. She holds and English degree from Edinboro and wrote for the campus newspaper, The Spectator. She now writes the newsletter at the market.
“I love working here,” Homerski said. “It’s a wonderful environment, and it’s fulfilling to me to be working at a place where I get to see a real difference being made in the community.”
Since 2020, people have dealt with the pandemic. Panic buying hit every store (during that time at Edinboro Market, customers were limited in how much meat and how many eggs they could buy), but after that subsided, the market started to see increased success.
“We’re one of the few businesses that actually flourished because of the pandemic. I think people flocked to us because we’re not a big box store, and they found us through word of mouth because they wanted to shop where there’s not hundreds of people in the building at the same time,” Hals said. “Our producers are smaller, so they can pivot easier and quickly (compared to big box feeders).”
Buying from local farms at the local market means the money spent is returned to the community. And buying from small growers and crafters at the market means more than just economic benefits.
“We don’t have $1.99 per pound beef, but there’s a hidden cost with that $1.99 per pound,” Hals said.
Martz laid out some of the hidden costs:
“Animal welfare, and the health of beef… Subsidies for large scale Ag as opposed to small scale growers who are trying to grow to feed us and not trying to grow corn, soy beans, wheat,” Martz said.
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For more information about Edinboro Market, visit the organization’s website.