Finding a Farmers' Market
How specialized sellers from near and far pick their spots.
by Micheline Maynard, with research by L.R. Nunez
From the September, 2021 issue
The farmers' market season is in full swing. From Dexter's modern sheds to a long driveway next to the Pittsfield Township administration building, tables abound with tomatoes, garlic, sweet corn, and prepared foods, plus colorful crafts.
Some familiar vendors from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, like Milan's Wasem Fruit Farm and Kapnick Orchards of Britton, sell at other nearby markets, too. But there's also surprising diversity. In visits to four local markets, at every one we found providers for whom it's their only, or only local, outlet.
Some simply don't have enough staff to spread themselves across the area and still tend to their farms or produce their goods. Others travel long distances and choose just one market in this area on their way to other locations across Southeast Michigan. Still others are loyal to the markets closest to where they live.
Here's a look at markets in and near Ann Arbor, spotlighting sellers unique to each.
The Cheese People of Grand Rapids began selling at the Dixboro Farmers' Market in 2016, driving more than 130 miles to bring a generous selection of gourmet cheeses such as Havarti, Gouda, Swiss, blue cheese, and cheddar that fill a display table. The People make many of their own cheeses, age others in Grand Rapids and Chicago, and source varieties from artisan producers in Green County, Wisconsin, and other places. Every Friday, they can be found among the open-air tents grouped around Dixboro's village green.
The market has outdoor seating, some of it under cover for those seeking refuge from the sun. Musicians regularly perform, and on a recent afternoon, the El Mariachi Loco food truck peddled tacos and tortas.
Dixboro shoppers "have a wide range of tastes, and no one cheese tends to take the lead week after week," the Cheese People's Nicole Bartell emails. "We like to encourage our cheese lovers to try something new each visit."
Offerings rotate by the time of year and availability. "Some of our favorites are
seasonal specialties or one-off experiments," she says. Prices listed online range from $8 for a twelve-ounce bag of cheese curds and $13 a pound for smoked Gouda to $18 a pound for goat-milk feta. (The online business is paused for the summer, but will resume in the fall.)
Along with Dixboro, they sell at markets in Northville, Plymouth, and Canton, making the two-hour trip from the west side of the state worthwhile.
"Vending at farmers' markets is the backbone of our business," Bartell says. "The Dixboro Farmers' Market helps us do what we love--share our spoiled-milk goodies with new customers and regulars who have been with us since the beginning."
Dixboro Farmers' Market, 5221 Church Rd., (734) 707-1602. Fri. (May-Oct.), 3-6 p.m., dixborofarmersmarket.org
Susan Braymer, who owns Laurentide Winery with her husband Bill, has an even lengthier trip. Every two weeks, she travels more than 250 miles from Lake Leelanau to the Westside Farmers' Market, in the parking lot at Zingerman's Roadhouse on Jackson Rd. "It's the only market we go to," Braymer says.
Laurentide is part of an eclectic group of offerings there, ranging from live cooking demonstrations to lawn-mower-blade sharpening to live music. Shoppers are welcome to bring their dogs, and there's plenty of bicycle parking.
Braymer has a long relationship with the Roadhouse, where former executive chef Alex Young first put her Sauvignon Blanc on the wine list during the 2010s. She started selling at the market in 2014, as soon as the state allowed vineyards to do so.
Zingerman's cofounder and Roadhouse boss Ari Weinzweig allows customers who purchase bottles of Laurentide wines to bring them inside and imbibe without a corkage fee, Covid restrictions allowing.
And Ann Arbor customers get a deal that Braymer doesn't offer at her winery up north: anyone who purchases two bottles at the market gets a third for free. Why? "The wine I bring down, I don't want to bring back," Braymer says "It's a long drive."
Westside Farmers' Market, 2501 Jackson Rd., Thurs. (June-Sept.), 3-7 p.m. westsidefarmersmarket.com
It would be hard to think of someone who knows more about farmers' markets than Stephanie Willette. She's managed two of them, first in Chelsea and then in Ann Arbor.
She gave up that job last year, just before the pandemic hit, to concentrate full time on Two Tracks Acres, her farm in Grass Lake. But she is now back at the bustling Ann Arbor market, selling a product that she wanted when she was running it.
"When I was a staff person, I was always saying, 'I wish I could grab a bagel,'" Willette recalls. While about ninety vendors displayed other goods on a recent Saturday, and Zingerman's Deli was only a short walk away, Willette felt that the downtown market might benefit from its own bagel baker.
A year ago, that became her: she added a selection of bagels to her farm's produce, which can often be found under a tent in the market's parking lot, an overflow area for many newer vendors. Each week, Willette bakes around 200 bagels in a variety of flavors. "Everything" and blueberry are the most popular, but she also makes plain, sesame, chipotle cheese, and cinnamon sugar. The bagels sell for $2 each or $24 a dozen.
To avoid any appearance of favoring her farm, she waited to apply at the market until her replacement as manager was chosen. She sells vegetables on Wednesdays and Saturdays but only offers bagels on the weekend.
"They take all day to bake," Willette explains, requiring her to devote Fridays to bagel baking. She watched YouTube videos to learn the process for making traditional bagels, including boiling the rings of dough before they are baked. "I found a couple of recipes I liked" and proceeded from there, she says.
Willette thinks the addition of bagels will allow her to keep selling in Ann Arbor year-round, after the growing season is over. "We were looking for something we could do in the winter months," she says.
While she's sold produce at other markets in the past, Willette is content now to concentrate on her old stomping ground. "It's such a great market, it's so busy, and the customers are so loyal," she says.
Ann Arbor Farmers' Market, 315 Detroit St., (734) 794-6255. Wed. (May-Dec.) 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-3 p.m. (Jan.-April) & 7 a.m.-3 p.m. (May-Dec.). tinyurl.com
Sarah Scherdt is a newbie to the Dexter Farmers Market, where she and her sister-in-law Kim Scherdt opened their Scherdt Farm booth in mid-July. But Scherdts have been farming on Dexter-Ann Arbor Rd. for four generations, and some of their relatives preceded them in selling at the Dexter market.
Set above Mill Creek, it looked like a Hollywood version of a farmers' market on a sunny August morning, with dog walkers mingling with about twenty friendly vendors selling everything from crocheted toys to candles and baby clothes, and, of course, food.
"It's been great to connect with people, talk flowers, and exchange cooking methods for our different produce," Sarah says of their market experience. She's enjoyed connecting with other vendors to "talk shop, complain about the latest pests and other challenges of growing."
The Scherdts got their retailing feet wet in 2019 selling from a cart at their farm. When the pandemic struck in 2020, they decided to go all in.
"This year, we more than quadrupled the flower-growing space by designating the field behind the garden cart as a flower field," Sarah says. And moving the flowers let them nearly double their growing space for produce.
In their first month, carrots were the most popular vegetables, selling out both weeks they were available (the Scherdts plan to bring more to the market in the fall). Lately, green and waxed beans have been selling best. Flowers are sold both in paper-wrapped bouquets and individually at their "flower bar," where customers can build their own assortments from a selection of loose stems.
The sisters-in-law thought about selling at other area markets, "but it ultimately boiled down to one simple thing," Sarah says: "Dexter is home.
"We both have traveled to and lived in other places, but our hearts always remained rooted here."
Dexter Farmers' Market, 3233 Alpine, Dexter. (734) 426-8303. May-Oct., Tues. 2-6 p.m. & Sat. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. dextermi.gov
At the Pittsfield Township Farmers' Market, Laura Giles focuses entirely on flowers. And she's primarily selling them in a nontraditional way: through the market's website.
Giles founded Little Workshop Floral in 2020, expecting to set up a booth at the market. When the pandemic erupted, "I had to devise a Plan B," she says. In January, she began taking orders through the market's online order page, one of a number set up by area markets, where vendors post photographs and descriptions of their weekly offerings. Customers place prepaid orders from Saturday through Monday. Giles makes up the arrangements then takes them to the Thursday market, where they are kept indoors in water until buyers collect them at the information booth.
She grows some of her flowers in a half-acre field at her Pittsfield Township home, adding accents such as dried flowers and native plants. Her lineup includes a "petite" bouquet, about six inches in diameter, and a "luxe" version, eleven inches in diameter. Prices range from $22 to $33. In the winter, she sells dried arrangements for less.
For Giles, the experience has been a business education. "Products I thought would sell well have flopped, and things I thought of as a last-minute offering have sold out," she says. "All this has been good for me."
This summer, Giles held a series of in-person pop-ups at the market, which she hopes to repeat, but found that each took two days away from her full-time job--one to choose and wrap the flowers, then a second day to set up her booth and sell. So for now, she's sticking with online orders, which allow her to spread out production according to her available free time.
While she's thought about expanding to other markets, Giles is happy with the visibility Pittsfield has given her. She's received several large orders for bouquets and has created flowers for weddings, too. "I've developed a pretty awesome little fan base of clients that are very faithful at purchasing flowers from me," Giles says.
Pittsfield Township Farmers Market, 6201 W. Michigan Ave., (734) 822-2120.Thurs. 2-5 p.m. (June-Oct.) facebook.com
If you're venturing out to the markets, here are some tips to make your experience easier:
Check the policies regarding online ordering. Some have pickup spots and curbside delivery, eliminating the need to park and walk through the market. Not all providers participate, however.
Bring your own shopping bags and sealable plastic bags. Many merchants like to keep the paper and plastic cartons in which fruits and veggies are displayed, and you can save them an expense by having your own bags available.
If you're on a hunt for something specific, arrive when the market opens. Many fragile seasonal items, such as raspberries, sell fast.
It's perfectly OK to circle the market first then return when you're ready to buy. But if people are lined up to pay, save your questions for your turn in line.
Don't bargain over single items; you might be offered a deal if you are buying quantities. Many growers will throw in extras when closing time looms (I've walked away with massive bouquets).
from Calls & Letters, October 2021
George Schlecht called to point out that our September article about uncommon offerings at nearby farmers' markets missed Ypsilanti's: "They've got a great market on Washington St., and also run a market in Depot Town." Both will be open through the end of October-downtown 3-7 p.m. Thursdays, and Depot Town 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.
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