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Fido better off at home than at market

Saturday April 27, 2013 2:54 PM

The Clintonville Farmers' Market will open its 11th outdoor season Saturday, April 27, in the heart of Clintonville.

This year, the market has more than 65 producers over 31 Saturdays and 11 Wednesdays. You'll see old farmer friends and new growers, local banjo players, cooking demonstrations, gardening advice, our 15th food preservation day with an emphasis on nutrition, the second Apron Day, and the fourth Dirt Day.

Last year, 50,000 visitors to our market brought at least $1 million into the Clintonville-area local economy through the relationships developed with growers and producers and the purchase of Ohio fruits, vegetables and cottage and value-added products.

As well as adding new activities to our market traditions, the board will add an important new policy this year: No pets are allowed at the market ,with the exception of service animals.

For some folks, this will be a welcome policy. For me, as market manager and dog owner, this is a tough call. I love doggies and have loved seeing them at the market -- but my own dog, Watty, a best friend and good soul in every respect, was a terrier-terror in a stimuli-loaded public place. I know that a farmers market, with its crowds, smells and movement, would have revved up Watty's little motor.

With the growth of the Clintonville Farmers' Market, producer stalls sit cheek by jowl on private property near High Street (the public sidewalk is behind stalls and next to the curb). Baskets and crates of food sit at ground level in front of and behind stalls. Walking space can be cozy. Strollers and toddlers move at dog height.

In past years, market volunteers have reported seeing leashed dogs snarl and lunge at each other. Older patrons have talked of being fearful of entanglement in a dog leash. Some nervous dogs have urinated and defecated close to food, and sometimes dog feces have remained on the pavement, to be stepped in and spread further.

As the market has grown within its limited space, safety and hygiene issues raised by dogs at the market have become a serious concern. Clintonville Farmers' Market, a nonprofit, community-based organization directed by a volunteer board of advisers and part-time staff, works hard to assure patron safety and food safety. We have been forward-thinking about safety, hiring a police officer to direct traffic and requiring our growers to obtain a biennial food safety education certificate. We try to recognize and prevent potential issues.

Clintonville Farmers' Market is not the first Columbus organization to take action on dog and visitor safety. Comfest, Columbus' long-standing mecca of mellow, music and man's best friend, has dramatically reduced the presence of dogs. The site map in the program says it's "cruel, not cool" to bring dogs. Local artists, and some guest musicians as well, tell audiences to leave their dogs at home in their familiar, safe and air-conditioned surroundings.

Farmers markets around the country have introduced a variety of measures to reduce or banish dogs. California state law bans pets, and the market in Boulder, Colo., teamed with the local humane society to tell market patrons, "It may not be beneficial for your dog's mental or physical state of well-being" to come to market.

We'll introduce our policy through education and incentives. We'll distribute fliers at early Saturday and Wednesday markets, then add a coupon for a take-home pet treat from one of our locally sourcing pet-food producers. As the season progresses, we'll issue reminders of our policy.

This feels like a big step for us, but it's essential that we prevent inevitable problems.

We're excited about the start of what will not only be our largest market, but also our longest. This year, our Saturday market will be open for 31 mornings, from 9 a.m. to noon April 27 through Nov. 23. Our Wednesday market will be 11 afternoons, from 4 to 7 p.m. June 5 through Aug. 14.

Come visit us often and get to know the producers, and let them get to know you. One of our goals this year is promote an ongoing dialogue between patrons and producers -- so come on out and tell your farmer or local baker what you liked, what you would like to see and how you prepare or use what you purchase on Saturday morning or Wednesday afternoons.

Clintonville is a wonderful community and our producers tell us that they value the opportunity to get to know their customers.

See you soon -- and bring your market basket!

Laura Zimmerman is market manager of the Clintonville Farmers' Market.

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