It didn’t look like much 26 years ago. In fact, if you had driven, all you would have seen was a couple of trucks in a parking lot so big it just about swallowed up the few farmers, florist and bakery owner setting up their stands.
But anybody who stopped was rewarded with just-picked vegetables and fruit, fresh flowers and bread still warm from the oven. They had made a wonderful discovery – the Farmington Farmers Market.
Today, you can’t miss the market. It almost spills out from downtown Farmington’s Sundquist Pavilion, built in 2005 with the market in mind. The farmers, who have grown in number and diversity, fill their tables with freshly picked produce that would dazzle in any food magazine. Carrots, kale, kohlrabi, pea shoots, turnips, beets, leafy green and red lettuce, garlic scapes, arugula, sweet strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus, French breakfast radishes – a good start for a rain-ravaged spring.
And the people who come are just as diverse. They look for produce to use in family recipes, or maybe they’ll cross cultures and try something new. The market is a true melting pot that can make shoppers feel as if they’ve been transported to a different land.
Back at those first markets in 1993, a dozen or so farmers and other vendors set up shop. Today, the market has more than 90 names on its rotating lineup, including 18 farmers who come from all over southeast Michigan, from Detroit to Coloma, on the edge of Lake Michigan. The others bring to market such diverse fares as jewelry, pottery, teas, dog treats, spices, handmade soaps, photos, coffee, wine, nursery plants and more. Food items include cheesecake, tamales, soups, pot pies, pierogis, cookies, breads and sweet baked treats.
And that’s just to name a few.
There’s much more – musicians, chef demos, activities for children, senior assistance, special events such as the Polish American and the Italian American markets and room in Riley Park to play a giant version of connect four or just people-watch.
The people have responded. Market manager Walt Gajewski says the market averaged about 3,250 visitors each Saturday last year and is on a pace to surpass that this year, despite the weather.
This may sound like the small town you grew up in, or wished you had. And that’s exactly what it is. You can find librarians from the Farmington Community Library at the Little Sprouts tent with kid activities, and local florists from Farmington’s historic Springbrook Gardens who may have done your daughter’s wedding selling potted plants and cut flowers.
There are the quick-to-smile volunteers, most of whom have been and still are market shoppers. The mayor and other city officials might be working at a tent or just chatting with shoppers, eager to stay connected with their constituency. When the soon-to-be-closed Harrison High School wanted to reach alumni with information about an all-school reunion, organizers set up a booth at the market.
None of this sprouted overnight. Many folks joined together to nurture this market, including Gajewski, who became a certified market manager through the Michigan Farmers Market Association, the first group in the country to offer such a program. Gajewski saw a future for that little market in the downtown space that became Riley Park and Sundquist Pavilion, named for two local benefactors. He wasn’t alone.
“There’s actually a time capsule buried here on the site,” Gajewski said, “with mementos contributed from those who joined together with a vision for a public gathering place. That collective vision is now a reality for all to enjoy at the market. That time capsule pings with good vibrations!”
While it has grown, the Farmers Market remains close to its smalltown roots.
“I love going to the Farmington Farmer’s Market every Saturday,” says Nancy Cullen Johnson, “because it is within walking distance to my home, and because the produce from the farmers is so fresh and delicious, and the fish and eggs are fantastic, and the atmosphere with the music is magical.
“But the main reason I love the market is the sense of community I feel while I am there. It is wonderful to see and catch up with neighbors and friends.”
Kevin Christiansen, the City of Farmington’s director of Economic and Community Development, agrees.
“It’s all about people,” says Christiansen, a market volunteer who’s at the pavilion early on Saturdays to help set up tents. “It’s what life is supposed to be like on Saturday in a Michigan small town.”
The Farmington Farmers and Artisans Market has been nominated in WDIV-TV’s “Vote for the Best” competition and is looking for its third win in the Farmers Market category. You can vote once per hour through July 14 at clickondetroit.com/vote-4-the-best/heres-where-you-can-vote-4-the-best
Saturday’s Farmers Market preview
The Market’s annual Strawberry Shortcake Day on June 22 will raise funds in a delicious way.
From 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., get a taste of summer – strawberry shortcakes, with the berries and scratch-made biscuits from Kapnick Orchards. At $3 each and 2 for $5, these always sell out.
All proceeds go to supporting the market, which relies 100 percent on sponsors, vendor fees and fundraising.
Acoustic troubadour Mark Reitenga brings music to the market at 10 a.m., and Mayfair Pre-School hosts the Little Sprouts Corner. Also at 10 a.m., enjoy a performance with the ventriloquist team of Boytoe & Lazareth.
You’ll find a list of produce that vendors will be bringing to the market and more market information at farmingtonfarmersmarket.com.