Michigan is blessed with more than 400 farmers markets, cider mills and farm stands and that means there are myriad opportunities to buy fresh produce that has been grown and harvested near you.
Buying from a farmers market means you are supporting Michigan farmers and producers — not a grocery chain — and the money you spend there goes straight to the farmer with no middlemen. That and the obvious delight one gets from enjoying freshly picked asparagus or radishes or biting into a bright-red tomato or juicy peach still warm from the sun is one of the endless advantages.
Taking on the atmosphere of a county fair with entertainers and kids activities, along with popcorn and lemonade and lots of dining choices — from hot dogs to barbecue, and even freshly prepared eggs for that egg and sausage sandwich that a fast-food joint couldn’t hold a candle to — a farmers market is the modern version of the old-fashioned trip to town.
You can visit one, from the large and bustling Detroit’s Eastern Market, to the quaint and smaller venue such as Wayne Farmers Market, practically any day of the week, making it a wonderful opportunity to take along the kids so they can meet the farmers, learn how to eat healthy by picking our their own food and partake in the many activities offered — no occasion for summer boredom here.
For instance, the Wayne market, which sits in the quaint Goudy Park behind city hall with a full playground and walking trails, also features a free bounce house, courtesy of Jimmy’s Party Rental, every Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. The new market manager this year, Jean Smith, says this is the market’s ninth year with anywhere from 12 to 20 vendors.Vendors often travel for miles to set up at the market, usually combining the trip with appearances at other nearby markets to make the trip more lucrative.
At one stand, Captain John’s Smokehouse in Bad Axe, you can find a variety of smoked meats, including a variety of beef jerky. Cowboy Dennis, who runs the stand, offers willing shoppers a sample of the various seasoned meats. His neighbor at the next tent, Glen Brittlingham, drives from Flint to bring his Jar Head Tortilla Chips and Simply Gourmet Fresh salsa and nacho cheese. “
“I make them at the VFW in Flint,” says Brittlingham, a former Marine as well as former professional chef from venues in Chicago and Ann Arbor.
He deftly combines a few chips along with the salsa of your choice (mild or hot) and melted cheese in a cup and offers up the sample while waiting for the smile of approval.
Meanwhile, a seasoned food veteran, Mary Ann Blaszak from Willis, provides fresh strawberries, herbs and lettuces from the family greenhouse, Blaszak Greenhouse.
“We go to two markets, here and Ypsilanti,” says Blaszak. “We started out at Eastern Market and have been doing this for almost 40 years, now it’s too much for my husband and me to handle it alone, so we prefer coming to the smaller markets.”
The produce should start rolling in about now, Smith said. They had strawberries, rhubarb and lettuce in June, but the offerings will greatly expand this month.
Smith says explaining that one of the disadvantages of opening a market in May means there’s a struggle for freshly grown food that people expect.
“People come here expecting tomatoes, but all that we can offer then is fresh herbs and plants in the way of produce,” Smith says.
However, thanks to the Michigan State season extension program, many farmers are implementing heated growing methods, called season extenders, in their greenhouses so that they can get a jump on the shorter growing season.
“They use hoop houses, row covers and water that’s heated with a stove in the greenhouse to line the rows of plants,” she says. “That way you really can get a tomato in June.”
And while Wayne’s market is among the smaller venues in the area, across town, the Sterling Heights market in Dodge Park, which is also managed by Smith, has about 45 vendors and more than 2,000 visitors every Thursday from 3-8 p.m.
“We piggyback with the Concert in the Park series,” explains Smith. “People come for the wares and stay for the music. It’s the perfect summer event.”