The new season of the Clintonville farmers market, opening Saturday, April 28, will mark the introduction of a new program.

Courtesy of a $2,000 Agricultural Action and Awareness Grant from the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, "Connecting Farmers and Emerging Market Customer Population" will seek to create a dialogue between people who grow food and, initially, Arabic-speaking clients of the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center.

The hope is, according to Clintonville Farmers Market manager Laura Zimmerman, to familiarize farmers with the food preferences of immigrant and refugee populations while at the same time introduce refugees and immigrants to the benefits of shopping at the market.

"The market has worked closely for years with Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center, and there is a significant client population there who are immigrants and refugees," Zimmerman said.

According to statistics supplied to Farmers Market officials by the CRC for purposes of the grant application, 10 percent of clients at the settlement house are immigrants and refugees from some 40 different countries. Of that 10 percent, 62 percent are from nations where Arabic is the dominant language, according to Zimmerman.

"So that looked like a good place to start," she said.

The first focus group meeting with representatives of Arabic-speaking residents is scheduled for Thursday, March 22, the market manager said. The Community Resources Center is providing an interpreter to assist in the yearlong project, Zimmerman added.

"The Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation continues to develop programs helping smaller, community-based groups and has awarded a series of Agricultural Action and Awareness Grants for the 2012 program year," according to a statement issued by the not-for-profit, public charitable organization that was formed in 1985. "The competitively awarded grants support programs and projects focusing on agricultural education and ecological and/or economic development."

This year's grants totaled more than $29,000, the press release indicated.

"That is double what we were able to do when the grant program started more than seven years ago," Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation president Jack Fisher was quoted as saying.

"It was very welcome," Zimmerman said of the $2,000 the market received in the competition grant process proposal submitted in November.

Through Connecting Farmers and Emerging Market Customer Population, food-growers should learn more about the preferences of people who came to this country, perhaps leading them to do some planting to provide crops immigrants and refugees used in cooking before emigrating, Zimmerman said.

"And it introduces that group of immigrants and refugees to the farmers market and the fresh food that's available there," she said.

The market manager hopes to have cooking demonstrations by members of the Arabic-speaking community.

"This is a natural extension of talking about food heritage," Zimmerman said.

Market officials last year did what the manager called informal research in order to "examine how food preferences in our area are changing." Customers were asked to place a dot on a large map indicating where the food they ate as children came from, and then another dot of a different color showing where the foods of their current preference originate.

"This is unscientific research but it was sort of on-the-spot research," Zimmerman said. "We saw an interesting shift from Northern European and North American toward Asian and Northern African and Latin (foods).

"That's anecdotally sort of one example of how the wider Clintonville customer population is going to be interested in this project."

The 2012 Clintonville farmers market will open with "Spring Sprout Day" April 28 and continue every Saturday on North High Street between Orchard Lane and West Dunedin Road through Oct. 27, with a final, season-closing "Harvest Market" on Nov. 17.