The Farmer’s Hand offers new opportunity to buy local
Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya, founders of The Farmer's Hand, talk about their organic local-source produce market, and host a holiday bazaar featuring Michigan-only products in their Corktown shop.
Stuffing a plastic bag with ripe Brussels sprouts, Jane Slaughter was elated. The 67-year-old Detroit resident claimed the markets in her neighborhood don’t carry them, and she needed the vegetable for a potluck dish.
Slaughter was among a dozen shoppers packed in The Farmer’s Hand, Corktown’s only organic produce market, during Corktown-a-Glow’s holiday shopping event Saturday. Some of the bundled-up customers stopped in for coffee; others browsed the shelves lined with Michigan-made products. Slaughter headed to the veggies.
“The idea of having this really fresh produce and unusual items is really great. I like the fact that it’s really close to my house,” says Slaughter, who’s lived in Hubbard Farms near the Ambassador Bridge since 1987. “And their sandwiches are out of this world, probably because they get really good bread.”
Kiki Louya, 33, and Rohani Foulkes, 36, opened The Farmer’s Hand at the end of September. The 500-square-foot shop at Trumbull and Bagley carries more than 100 Michigan products ranging from all-natural sourdough from Mother Loaf Breads in Milan to Sister Pie cookies and Street Eatzz Detroit Barbecue Rub. The seasonal produce comes from a few dozen Michigan farms, including the nearby Detroit Farm and Garden, Food Field and Rising Pheasant Farms.
Why sell only Michigan products?
“Why not?” is Louya’s response.
“Michigan is No. 2 in agricultural diversity in the entire country, only behind California,” she says. “There are a lot of people doing beautiful things, growing year round. I feel like there is every reason to showcase what Michigan does.”
During a lull last Wednesday afternoon, the two women rest at a wood table decorated with red poinsettias. In her Australian accent, Foulkes explains they want to support the local food “ecosystem.”
“There are tons of grocery stores out there doing a wonderful job, but sometimes you really have to search and hunt for the quality that you’re looking for, or something that’s coming from down the road that isn’t being shipped from halfway around the world,” Foulkes says. “So we’re able to establish that, not just for ourselves, but for the community.”
Bonding over food, community
Sharing a love for food and community — and both previously working in the culinary industry and nonprofits — it’s somewhat hard to believe the women, now “besties,” met only in January.
Foulkes hails from Australia, where she worked as a restaurant and hotel chef for 10 years. She met her husband, a Garden City native, during a snowball fight on the streets of New York. After a truly long-distance relationship — which involved flying from Sydney to New York every 12 weeks — they moved to Detroit in 2012.
“It had a lot to do with community and the really interesting stuff that was going on here with food and startups,” Foulkes says of choosing the Motor City.
Before developing the market, she worked at Gleaners Community Food Bank, focusing on community outreach and nutrition education.
Louya grew up on the west side in Rosedale Park and attended the University of Michigan and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago. She then worked for Chicago restaurateurs, such as Chris Pandel of Balena and James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Kahan of Blackbird, and spent several years as a nonprofit event planner.
Last year, both women had the idea to open a market in Detroit that sells produce from local farmers. They started researching the same farms and potential partners.
“We were meeting a lot of the same people, and they were getting us confused for one another,” Louya says, “So we decided to reach out to one another, have coffee, sit down and think things through.”
Launching a market with a cafe that sells coffee, sandwiches and pastries is “a very big undertaking,” she says, “so we joined forces and did it together. And here we are.”
The Farmer’s Hand offers an alternative to the traditional food distribution model, which Foulkes says has six or seven steps.
“We work directly with farmers and producers,” she says, “So we’re taking four steps out of that distribution process, meaning that we return 70 cents out of every dollar directly back to the partners that we work with.”
The national average of return, they say, is 17 cents.
“As a customer, that’s a value proposition for them to come in and say ‘Hey, I want to support local. I want to really truly put my money where my mouth is, and this is where I can do it,’ ” Louya says.
A market to ‘feel at home’
Saturdays and Sundays, the tight space fills with families and tourists brunching and shopping for gifts. But during the week, the market attracts Corktown residents who no longer have to hop in their cars when they’re out of milk.
Astro Coffee owner Daisuke Hughes, 36, has lived in Corktown the past nine years and couldn’t be happier The Farmer’s Hand is a short walk from his home and shop. Last week, he rolled in with his wife and 9-month-old tucked in a stroller to pick up onions, herbs, fresh ground beef and assorted ingredients for dinner.
“Other cities have (markets) just a few blocks away,” Hughes says, “so it’s the first time we’re experiencing that kind of convenience while living here, which is really nice.”
Instead of loading up at Midtown’s Whole Foods or Mexicantown’s Honey Bee Market once a month, he and his wife, Jessica Hicks, shop at The Farmer’s Hand several times a week.
“We come see what’s here, grab stuff and base dinner off of that — another thing we could never do in the past,” he says, adding, “I’m still thankful for Whole Foods, but having the option is a very new experience in Detroit, so I’m pretty into that.”
Foulkes and Louya opened the market in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, because they wanted it to be within walking distance for residents. They also saw a growing number of retailers and restaurants in the area.
Just three months in with a staff of six, they’ve successfully created their “dream place,” Louya says, scanning the artisan jams, pottery and the cozy bench to sip a cup of Hyperion coffee.
“We see conversations happen with strangers in the market. People feel at home,” she says. “After the election, people were feeling a lot of different emotions about what happened, and they came here because it was a safe space, and it was a place they told us they felt comfortable hanging out in.”
The women say they hope to continue fostering that feeling throughout the holidays. The past few weekends, they organized a holiday bazaar with local retailers Mama Coo’s Boutique, All Things Detroit, Ilera Apothecary and others. The final days of the bazaar are this Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sisters Chinonye and Nneji Akunne launched Ilera Apothecary in August 2015 and sell the organic body washes and body butters they make in Detroit at The Farmer’s Hand. Chinonye Akunne, 28, says she supports that it’s a women-run business that promotes local vendors — some which primarily sell online like their personal care line.
“It’s a great way to get different customers to find out about your product,” she says.
Detroit resident Scott Furkas, 27, milled around the bazaar Saturday afternoon. Living a 10-minute walk away, he says he comes to The Farmer’s Hand “all the time,” usually to grab an egg sandwich or dessert.
“It’s nice to have a local market, especially if I wanted to get spinach, kale and stuff to make a salad,” he says.
On Saturday, he left with a bottle of Primrose Trail Moisturizing Oil made in Farmington.
Until Christmas, shoppers can find special-edition gift boxes filled with products from The Farmer’s Hand. For example, the $50 “Farmer’s Fan” box includes Populace coffee, a Farmer’s Hand tote bag and $20 gift card for the market.
For $26.99, the “Flavorbomb” box features Detroit’s Gus & Grey smoked garlic tomatillo jam, Street Eatzz foodie sauce and Esch Road spicy IPA mustard and rub from Holland.
Wreaths from Fisheye Farms in Detroit are also available for $12-$28 as well as Christmas trees from Goetz in Riga for $35-$50.
While new businesses sometimes evolve, Louya promises their mission to support Michigan agriculture and local products will not change.
“You can feel really good about spending your dollar here,” Louya says. “Even if it’s a cup of coffee.”
If you go
The Farmer’s Hand
1701 Trumbull, suite D, Detroit
10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Saturday-Monday
9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday
Visit the Holiday Bazaar
1701 Trumbull, suite B, Detroit
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday