// by Michael G. Thodoroff //
This June marks the fourth anniversary of the Flint Farmers’ Market grand opening in its new location of 300 E. First St., site of the old Flint Journal building. Since that maiden celebration, the Market has evolved into the vibrant center of our town’s community life that is welcoming to everybody. It has become more than a weekend event and has turned out to be a year-round feature of Flint’s landscape, all in the spirit of helping rebuild our community by becoming the hub for a thriving local fresh food system. In addition, the Flint Farmers’ Market provides a supportive and profitable place for small farms and businesses, both rural and urban, to earn a secure living.
But aside from all the accolades, Karianne Martus is not resting on those laurels. As the Market manager, she is excited to introduce, in concurrence with their fourth year at the First St. location, a Farmers’ Square concept where more of the smaller, local farmers will set up their space, which will distinguish yet truly complement the larger retail sellers. Martus enlightens on this approach by noting that every year, there are a few small, local farmers who are starting up, but their yield is not that large in volume.
“They simply do not have the capability to come here three days a week and set up four tables of produce,” she says. She goes on to note, for example, with the Farmers’ Square approach, now a few smaller farmers can do one table for possibly two days a week, which allows all those folks to get together in a common area where they can be supported. A tangible benefit is that all the farmers are now able to educate people as to how they grow things, which in turn helps people understand the entire Michigan growing season.
This approach did not happen overnight. Near the end of last season, newcomer LeAnn Luke of Mayville noticed consumers had a difficult time distinguishing between farmers and retail sellers of produce goods.
“As a farmer myself, that was frustrating,” she recalls, “and I’m a nurse too! For me, we needed a way for consumers to understand the difference.” She went to Martus and, over the winter, discussed ways to bring more farmers to the market. Collectively they came up with idea to showcase the situating of all farmers together. Luke additionally notes the Farmers’ Square will be conducting monthly classes, so farmers can teach consumers what they have learned. As an example, one of the first courses will be on container gardening.
“Not many people have large yards to plant produce, herbs and flowers so this class will address solutions to confined spaces,” Luke says. Her plan is to get more farmers involved in teaching the classes, which will provide a broader perspective of topics while being open to suggested subjects from the public.
Luke has also observed many farmers want to come to Flint but prefer the “farmers only” markets. She also comments although it would be nice to have the entire market populated by local farmers, the retail sellers provide essential yields, such as oranges, pineapples, bananas, coconuts and late-arriving local produce such as tomatoes, strawberries and corn. This is another influencer of the Farmers’ Square approach, which will enhance the local farmers and the retail sellers.
As the Flint Farmers’ Market manager, Martus observes that while their produce sellers may not be growers, they are seriously concerned about where they get their food. “One of the things people are curious about – and it’s growing over the years – is where their food comes from,” she says with candor, “how it’s being grown, what treatments are being used on it. There are so many health issues that people are more aware of what they eat. I enjoy hearing customers interact with farmers, the growers, the sellers and all our business people. It is very interesting and rewarding when they are having conversations about their food; it’s become how we can feed our families in better healthier ways.”
The Farmers’ Square is set up to encourage this interaction and to help smaller farmers flourish. “The Flint Farmers’ Market is a public market, so we will be certain to support all our vendors. This could be the beginning of a family farm for new families,” Martus says.
Michigan’s Buying Guide – Fruits & vegetables commonly grown in Michigan
Available in August
Melons (watermelon, musk)
Vegetables Available in August
Beans (snap & green, etc.)
Cucumbers (pickling, salad)
Greens (turnips, mustard, collards, kale)
Lettuce (head & leafy)
Onions (red, white)
Squash (yellow, zucchini)
Tomatoes (cherry, roma, slicers)