Detroit’s Eastern Market brings to mind Saturday shopping for farm-fresh, affordable produce — likely purchasing directly from the company that grew it — flowers, and other small-batch gourmet items like jams, dips, honey and coffee.
The year-round urban shopping destination, now in its 125th year, is much more than that, though. As improvements and additions have been made over the last few years, the market continues to grow into a place where you can get much more than a bell peppers and begonias.
One of the major upgrades is the $8.5 million investment in Shed 5, which was completed last year. It includes a renovated market space and a community kitchen.
“(The kitchen) opened a year ago and it’s really hitting its stride as a home for food entrepreneurs to rent it by the hour to make batches of their product that they sell at the market,” says Eastern Market Corporation President Dan Carmody.
“But on market days we’re also pleased to offer a number of cooking demonstrations and food literacy classes.”
On a recent Saturday the community kitchen offered demos by internationally-trained butcher Larissa Popa, who taught about chicken butchering, trussing and other techniques.
Carmody says another big development this year is the connecting of the Dequindre Cut Greenway to Eastern Market. To compliment that, Wheelhouse Detroit bike shop opened a rental location at 1454 Wilkins. Market visitors will also be able to rent segways when Detroit Segway opens later this month.
For art-lovers, Eastern Market was made even more colorful with the last fall’s Murals in the Market festival, which allowed 45 local and international artists to paint new murals around the area. The festival is expected to return later this year. Wasserman Projects art gallery opened last year on Russell street, joining the nearby Red Bull House of Art and Inner State Gallery.
Jason Stevens of Livonia has been coming to Eastern Market with his family for years. He says he’s noticed an uptick in quality.
“The upgrades to the sheds have been really nice, there’s noticeable improvements,” says Stevens, who was at Eastern Market earlier this spring with his wife, Andrea Stevens, and their three children, ages 6-10.
“We come down here as a family for the fresh produce, just to see everybody ... people,” says Stevens, who figures he and his crew come to the market twice a month, and maybe every weekend when it’s warm. “We come down here especially for Corridor Sausage ... we typically buy the Thai green curry and then we make an awesome pasta dish with fresh vegetables.”
The artisanal sausage from Detroit’s Corridor Sausage is just one of more than 100 vendors shoppers can visit each Saturday. Besides flower-sellers, farmers and prepared foods like pierogi, jams and salsa, the market has jewelry and gifts, baked goods, cheeses, eggs, seasonings, soap, fiber goods, and gourmet garlic mustard dressing and dip.
The latter, sold by Brian Faff, was named Rookie Vendor of the Year in 2015 by market officials. Faff says he sells the dip, which is a recipe of his wife, Csilla Ferenczi-Faff, in specialty markets all over the area, but 90 percent of his sales are done at Eastern Market.
Albert Rice has been selling fruit at Eastern Market for 21 years. He says his stand, Bert’s Produce, has been just outside of Shed 2 for 19 of those years. A fan of Detroit sports, Rice says his favorite thing about his job is “dealing with the people.”
He says bananas are his best selling fruit.
“Everybody loves bananas,” he says adding that he moves 15 cases a week, more than 1,000 bananas.
One of Rice’s regular customers is Jack LaRue of Novi, who would describe Eastern Market in one word: “overwhelming.”
“I’ve been coming here for 30 years,” LaRue marvels at the the quality of Rice’s produce. “Look at the size of those oranges. When he first got them three weeks ago, they were two for a dollar, then last week they were more, and now this week they’re four for seven dollars.”
LaRue says Rice gets fruit that you can’t buy elsewhere in Metro Detroit.
“This guy gets the best watermelon in the world ... you can’t find them anywhere around here. Why, I don’t know, but they’re like 10 bucks and they’re the best watermelon in the world.”
Rice says a lot of his produce comes from his uncle’s farm in Georgia.
Shopping guide and cookbook
The produce, flowers, retailers and restaurants of Eastern Market are explored in the book “Detroit’s Eastern Market: A Farmers Market Shopping and Cooking Guide.” The paperback’s third edition was published recently via Wayne State University Press.
Compiled by Lois Johnson and Margaret Thomas, with photos by Bruce Harkness, the guide has a bit of info on each of the businesses in Eastern Market, plus loads of recipes, from old to modern. All the ingredients for each recipe can be purchased at the market.
The guide explores the vendors inside the market, as well as the wholesale dealers of meat and produce that call the area home.
Flower Day is Eastern Market
More than 100,000 shoppers come to the market on the third Sunday of May each year for Flower Day.
“To some people Eastern Market is Flower Day, and the only time they come is once a year on Flower Day,” says Tracy Rivard, Director of Development at Eastern Market. “It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen or imagined. It’s acres of flowers of every variety, type, color ... things you’ve never seen.”
“It’s just an exciting event celebrating spring in Michigan,” she adds.
Sunday is the 50th annual flower day. The Metropolitan Detroit Flower Growers Association invites flower-growers from Michigan and beyond to fill 15 acres of affordable perennials, annuals, trees, herbs and shrubs.
Bringing a cart and arriving early is recommended. The official opening is 7 a.m., but growers arrive earlier and may start selling before then.
Upcoming at Eastern Market
Saturday Market, 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays
50th Annual Flower Day, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Eastern Market Bar Tour, 7-10 p.m. May 21
WALK Fashion Show, 2-9 p.m. May 22
Sunday Street Markets, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays June-September
Tuesday Markets, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays June-September
Friends of Eastern Market Breakfast, 8-9:30 a.m. June 21
Craft Cocktails and Hand-Crafted Cuisine, 7-11 p.m. June 24
Welcome Center, 1445 Adelaide is open 7 a.m.-4 a.m. Sat. all year, and also 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tues. and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun. from June through September.
Call (313) 833-9300