Chutney for $7.95 a container? Cheese for $20 a pound? Certainly not in Crawford County.

Certainly, indeed. Recently, customers have bought out those products at those prices from vendors at the Meadville Market House, and that success is proof there’s a demand for the specialty goods.

In turn, that’s encouraged local growers to get into the market, according to Alice Sjolander of the French Creek Project, which manages the Market House. Sjolander spoke at the Friends of the Meadville Market House annual meeting this week.

She said the Creative Crust bakery has done “tremendous business” and a summer survey, which said a third of the customers wanted cheese available at the Market House, has been supported by the sale of $800 in cheese in the last three weeks.

Plus, bulk foods and other recent additions provide “a taste of what you could buy” at the house as it changes into a more traditional market offering year-round local products, she said.

Introduced since the project took over last year are the bread bakery, cheese, eggs, butter, organic bulk flours and grains, fresh pasta, sauces, chutneys, chocolate and, beginning Saturday, fudge, Sjolander said.

She said though most of the new foods are produced in central Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, the recent business done by those products has shown local growers that customers will buy such goods, despite the fact they’re typically more expensive than their brethren sold at grocery stores. “Now they know people are willing to spend the extra money. Now we’ve proved to our local people

there’s a market. The whole reason we have the Market House is to keep local farmers going.”

Ultimately, she wants all the foods to come from the French Creek watershed, from southwestern New York state to Franklin. She said by producing and buying locally, the money stays here as well. “It will help the local economy because the farmer gets a better return for their money. Then they’ll be able to spend more, so then they go to the places that have helped them out. These things are going to be produced in our own back yards,” she said.

There is more on the way, Sjolander said, but some, such as large refrigeration units, can’t be brought in without a major electrical upgrade at the house. The refrigeration equipment they have now must be kept on separate circuits so as not to overload the system. “It’s a huge problem. There’s lots more work to do,” she said.

She said the electrical upgrades, which officials hope will be completed this year, will allow the house to host a delicatessen for prepared foods, as other successful market houses do. Plus, they will soon offer grass-fed beef and lamb once freezers are available.

She said the upgrade and an upcoming conceptual plan will transform the 135-year-old building. “We will become sustainable once more, that hub of the community at all times of the year,” she said.

The French Creek Project has hired a Philadelphia consultant to conduct the plan, which will address what types of goods should be sold, the preferred hours of operation and physical layout, among others, and should be finished by spring, officials have said.

Those recommendations will then be taken to potential funding sources to request money to pay for the changes.



Gary Johnson can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at gjohnson@meadvilletribune.com

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