The Entrepreneurs of Shaker Square Farmers Market
From flowers to candles to produce galore, the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square has been a staple of Saturdays in the Cleveland community since 1995. At the peak of summer, the Shaker Square Farmers Market lines the streets of the square with billowing tents and bustling vendors and an eerie, yet wonderful, silence of street traffic. Every vendor is not there every week, and neither is every family, but there is the comfort of how easy it is for all members of the community to buy goods at the market and for new entrepreneurs to share those goods. Fitting that this market would start in the historical, entrepreneurial hub of Shaker Square and continue to develop accessible opportunities for new businesses and families to enjoy the market. Whether they’ve been there for 20 years or 20 minutes, the Shaker Square Farmers Market continues to provide unique and ample opportunities for growth and community building to local entrepreneurs.
“When we first came, it was only on one side of the street, there were no “early greens” and it started way later in the year like end of April,” Tom Wiandt of Killbuck Valley Mushrooms recalled to me about when they first came to the market 21 years ago. Inspired by their friend Parker Bosely, Tom and Wendy Wiandt decided to take their product to market to find the real “gourmand” action beyond the restaurants they sold to. They found much more than that, “It’s about connecting people to people... 2/3rds of our customers have been down to visit our farms and we’re an hour away,” Tom commented while Wendy added, “We have young adults who remember coming here and telling us ‘I remember coming up and trying mushrooms at your stand!’” and smiled fondly at the memories. Killbuck Valley Mushrooms has found success and a following of their business all thanks to the market, “It does pay the bills,” Tom said with a little chuckle, “But I like talking to people, giving mushrooms to the kids, and just enjoying the community.” You may have tasted their mushrooms in local restaurants around town such as Cloak and Dagger, Toast, and even Sasa in the Square, but it does not beat the warmth of the owners and fresh bags of mushrooms straight from the market. Tom and Wendy gave me a parting gift of some baby blue oyster mushrooms as they closed up shop. I tossed them in some olive oil...a little bit of seasoning...*chef’s kiss* such a rich treat! I added a little bit of one of my favorite sauces courtesy of another entrepreneurial success that started in the community of the market.
Nana Kwamena Takyi-Micah, a native of Ghana, came to the US in 2010 to attend college where he started sharing his sauces at Super Bowl Parties and gatherings and would turn into Ghana Supreme Sauce, an all-natural marinade that has been in his family for six generations. Nana joined the market back in 2017 and his business has drastically changed since,“I wanted to sell local and so I reached out and gave some samples,” Nana recalled, “4 years later, I am in grocery stores around the area like ACME Fresh Market in Akron and the local market district sections of Giant Eagle.” While Nana aspires to start selling in the next 5 years across the continental US and internationally, he has no intention of “forgetting his roots”, “The market inspired me to reach out to local grocery stores because my customers wanted to buy my stuff outside the regular market time.” Even if all his dreams come true, when I asked Nana if he would still come back to sell at the market on Saturdays, he did not hesitate, “I’d still make an appearance just to remember where I started and keep the customers engaged.” The loyalty and inspiration of these entrepreneurs transcends the typical success of other business opportunities and prompts old and new vendors to come back week after week, and year after year.
Then there are the entrepreneurs, who maybe are not sure of what the next 5 years may look like, but are gaining the confidence and experience that comes from the Shaker Square Farmers Market. A great example of this comes from the high schoolers under the Young Entrepreneur Market tent. This last weekend was staffed by Sophy Gao, a Shaker Heights High School student sharing her stickers and materials for the bullet journaling community, “I had a lot of time during the pandemic to work on this....this is a program for young creatives and business owners to really get a hold of the community and connect with people.” Sophy has already moved on to another market, Van Aken, as she builds confidence in her work and continues to receive a positive reception and interest from this diverse community.
Also new to the market is the Happy Pickler, owned by Betsy Warner, who joined over a year ago for her first public outing after starting her business for the sake of her family’s health, “In 2011, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. And we thought, ‘She’s a runner, a vegetarian, healthy, what are we missing here?’” and this news prompted her to dive into the research about the benefits and history of pickling. The Happy Pickler is a business that means more than health. Three years ago, Betsy lost her wife to cancer, but that does not stop her from sharing what she learned with others and inspiring healthy living through her work, “[Shaker Square Farmers Market] is a great start with a nice, diverse group of people that I can get my bearings with,” Betsy explained as she packed up her few remaining glasses of Kvass. She has begun going to races and expanding her following, but also wants to be able to manage it all and keep sane while enjoying life, “I want to be able to make a living doing it, but I know life is short and I want to keep finding the joy in it.” I walked away, a bit misty eyed, with a bottle of Ginger Kvass in my hand as I contemplated how much these businesses mean to these entrepreneurs and this market as a whole.
These are just a few entrepreneur stories from the Square, but the opportunities they have been given to find success through community, expansion, and confidence at the market really emphasize the unique culture of this Northeast Ohio experience. Not only are the goods fresh and flavorful, the people supplying them represent the diversity and kindness of our area.
The Shaker Square Farmers Market is on Saturdays from 8am-12pm. They accept SNAP and EBT.
Photos courtesy of Emma Risley