KELLER MARKET HOUSE & LANCASTER FARMERS MARKET
Highlighting Locally Grown Foods
and Fostering Community
STORY AND VISUALS BY DELIA PALMISANO
Food production in Southeast Ohio is experiencing a sort of renaissance of authentic quality, with a new focus on locally sourced, fresh, seasonal options. The Keller Market House, located in historic downtown Lancaster, is a year-round marketplace featuring such food and goods. The shop opened its doors in May of 2016, after a 2011 survey revealed an overwhelming interest in the community to create a local food hub.
Operating as a not-for-profit corporation, called Lancaster Fresh Market, the group also runs the seasonal Lancaster Farmers Market, which runs from May to October. According to Erin Harvey, general manager at the Keller Market House, over one hundred local businesses are represented between the two markets.
A native of Lancaster, Harvey moved away for about a decade before coming back to the region to start her own small-scale farming operation. She became manager of the market in 2017. “When I moved back here, there was sort of this sense of home that I hadn’t felt anywhere else. Part of that I think comes from family connections and from knowing people, but also just something about the culture here that is truly unique,” she said.
Honoring the small-town heritage and connecting with the local community is integral to the mission of the Keller Market House and Farmers Market. Prior to COVID-19, the Market House offered activities such as workshops, classes and affordable rental space for gatherings. According to Harvey, “We’re located kind of halfway between Athens and Columbus and sometimes I feel like these in-between places get a little lost in the local food world.” She thinks people really appreciate that the market house and farmers market offer a different option than traditional grocers.
The store offers produce and artisan goods and encourages people to shop local.
“One thing I’ve found is that people like coming here because it feels really authentic. I think they feel a connection to their food and to the producers.”
The market received a 2020 seed grant from Ohio’s Winding Road to purchase a pop-up tent for special events at the farmers market, such as kids activities and cooking demonstrations. Safety precautions due to COVID-19 made these types of activities impossible. “2020 was a tough year. We had to suspend all of our fun activities,” said Harvey.
However, Harvey and the market were able to re-imagine the purpose of the pop-up tent and utilize it as a hand sanitizing station. “Because of the tent and other safety measures we were able to operate all season long outdoors and we were actually able to grow in terms of business,” she said.
“There was tremendous support in the community and we saw new customers and vendors in 2020 in both the market house and farmers market. For some folks, it was their only chance that week to see people. And that felt really important to be able to offer,” Harvey said.
The Market House and the Lancaster Farmers Market continue to look ahead and hope to offer more activities and opportunities in 2021. “One thing I’ve found is that people like coming here because it feels really authentic,” said Harvey. “I think they feel a connection to their food and to the producers. More than anything, we’ve always tried to make sure these are community markets, for the people, and more than just a place to spend your money.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Delia Palmisano is an Americorps member serving with Ohio’s Winding Road. Delia is a visual communicator and multimedia artist who believes in the power of storytelling. She feels a deep connection to the natural world and enjoys exploring the rolling hills of Appalachia with her husband and children.