Farmers markets grow across state
It seems fitting that the best word to describe the future of Michigan’s farmers markets is “growth.”…
It seems fitting that the best word to describe the future of Michigan’s farmers markets is “growth.”
That favorable prediction comes from Dru Montri, director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association, who already has witnessed tremendous growth since her organization began six years ago.
The MiFMA, which is on the grounds of Michigan State University, works with farmers market organizers, managers, farmers and vendors to create a vibrant marketplace for local food.
“We started in 2006, and at the time we had about 150 markets in the state, and last year we counted 280,” Montri said. “That is a lot of markets in a short period of time and that is reflective of what is happening across the country.
“Half of the markets in the state are less than 5 years old. To us, that means there are a lot of opportunities for farmers markets to grow in a lot of different ways.”
Molly Notarianni, market manager for the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, which has been in existence since 1931, said one change she’s noticed in the city’s year-round market is an increase in vendors throughout the winter months.
Notarianni said that when she started in her role four years ago, they had between five and 10 vendors who came every week during the winter, and now they have between 30 and 40.
“We need food year round; farmers and vendors need to sell food year round,” Notarianni said. “So, people aren’t just committed to purchasing food in the summer when they can get peaches and tomatoes. Instead, they are really being super-dedicated to making the effort to buy whatever is available year round, not just when it’s easy. That’s the one thing I’ve definitely noticed.”
Saline Farmers Market manager Nancy Crisp said this is the first year the city sponsored an indoor market during the winter months. The new market, which is housed at a school, has been welcomed by the community, Crisp said. Continued…
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “We had 30 vendors over Christmastime and customers would walk in and say, ‘I had no idea it was going to be this big,’ and I’d tell them I didn’t have any idea, either. I have over 20 vendors now and 400 customers a week.”
According to both Notarianni and Crisp, a greater diversity of products also is now available at their markets.
Notarianni said Michigan’s Cottage Food Law, which passed in 2010, made room for people to sell non-hazardous foods, such as baked goods and jellies, which can be prepared in home kitchens.
Crisp said she is beginning to see more grass-fed organic meat becoming available.
Beyond the products offered, Montri said other changes she has observed in markets have to do with the way items are paid for, with a growing number of farmers accepting debit and credit cards, instead of accepting cash only. With more farmers having access to smart phones, farmers also are beginning to use a hardware tool called “square up” on their phones for consumer purchasing.
A growing number of farmers markets now also accept Bridge Cards for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, as well as cards for the Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children for fruit and vegetable purchases.
Double Up Food Bucks —an incentive coordinated by the Fair Food Network of Ann Arbor that doubles up to $20 of a person’s Bridge Card purchases — was piloted at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in 2009 and was considered a success, Notarianni said.
“That is a huge incentive that people can use to stretch their money,” she said. “I think we did over $20,000 in Double Up Food Bucks, which is doubled, so that is $40,000 in food assistance money that was never spent at the market before.”
One last trend Montri pointed out is that markets now are partnering with downtown development authorities to bring more residents downtown. Along with that, she also sees markets partnering with other organizations in their communities such as libraries or restaurants to host live events.
To Notarianni, she is glad that farmers markets throughout the state are showing their “huge potential for growth.” Continued…
“I think the more farmers markets there are raises the awareness of the concept of shopping at farmers markets,” Notarianni said. “The more the merrier.”