Farmers market season is in full swing in Michigan and it’s my favorite time of year. Spending a Saturday morning at the farmers market allows for community involvement, socialization, healthy eating and local support. With the buzz over the new Downtown Market in Grand Rapids, the well renowned Fulton Street Farmers Market is not to be overlooked.
Undergoing a $2.9 million expansion has revitalized the Fulton Street Farmers Market’s stance in the community with indoor and outdoor vendors, food trucks and an overall direct focus on the local neighborhood and West Michigan community. I recently spoke with market manager, Melissa Harrington, about the ‘local’ mindset when it comes to food and, specifically, the importance of directly supporting farmers.
Kristin Coppens: Describe the expansion and new features of the market this year.
Melissa Harrington: The expansion has been a $2.9 million community project. We had over 700 unique contributions towards funding the updates, and the work is finally finished. The grounds and facilities are 100 percent ADA accessible, there is a roof so that we can continue to be a year-round market through rain or shine, we use storm water conservation techniques, and we have an indoor facility for vendors to utilize.
KC: What changes have you seen in the community as a result of the market?
MH: A wonderful aspect of the Grand Rapids community is the overwhelming support felt from every angle. The expansion has allowed the market to truly be a year-round market, which, in turn, has taught the community that they can eat and buy local year round. From the farmers’ standpoint, this extends their seasons and consistency.
KC: Do most of your farmers offer CSAs? If so, describe the process.
MH: A good handful of our farmers offer CSAs. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Individuals buy a share of the farm for the entire growing season and then receive produce weekly, dependent upon what is available. In addition to receiving a weekly bounty, the customer volunteers time at the farm, allowing for an understanding between farmer and customer on what goes into growing and providing produce to the community. The customer joins in the effort of farming.
KC: Why should people choose a CSA?
MH: A CSA contributes to a healthy lifestyle that expands your taste and allows you to eat seasonably. The customer intimately learns the trials and tribulations through hands on experience with the farm and the farmer. You can’t duplicate that trust and that relationship anywhere else. Additionally, the produce is a surprise and introduces new products and recipes into the customer’s experience.
KC: Why is buying and eating local so important for Grand Rapids, and Michigan as a whole?
MH: There are a number of different areas that explain why this mindset is important. Environmental preservation plays a role as local helps preserve land for smaller scale farms, so as to make sure the farmers do not have to sell off their land and allows for less invasive practices. Next, nutrition and food safety is advocated as you are receiving the produce at the peak of freshness, flavor, and nutrients. Lastly, buying and eating local keeps the money in the community. The market provides a social experience and shows kids where food comes from.
What is your favorite part of visiting a farmers market?
Photo credit: Fulton Street Farmers Market