Tag Archives: Westside Farmers Market

Should you have a garden to support local food or just buy local food

I have been into the local food thing for a few years now.

It feels good, but I have to wonder if my efforts are making a difference or if they are largely symbolic.

Is there a better way to go about it?

My thoughts take me to my garden this year. I had a huge garden, which unlike other years produced a small yield for the space/time spent.

Most years, I grow so much that I cannot eat it all nor do I have the time to cook what I can eat. I have tried to grow foods that stores longer as a result.

But I end up giving a lot away if I can. I never plan for the excess, so my donation effort is pretty random and not very efficent.

In recent years, I find that I am growing more flowers instead of food to avoid the excess. At least the bees are happy, which is kind of a big deal too.

This year however, the hot weather destroyed my Spring crops. The grass burried my smaller crops regardless of long hours weeding. And the late start of the garden left me with no yield for my sweet potatoes.

With that said, I discovered that even extremely split cabbage still tastes good and flowering arugula tastes great too, which I had figured it to be done for. So maybe my yield was a little better then I thought.

I did not do the farmers market with my sprouts and bake goods this year, so I found myself as a shopper instead of vendor.

As a shopper, I noticed that I found that my garden competed with the market vendors. Instead of buying their produce, I had my own in my garden (sort of).

I never thought about it until this year, but did having my own garden make sense on a local food movement level?

Would both I, and the vendors (and the local food movement) be better served if I did not grow a garden, but instead bought from a local farmer instead?

I don’t have the exact numbers, but a garden can be a costly endeavor. There is the community garden rental, the cost of adding nutrition to the soil and then there are the plants and seeds, equipment/tools, plant supports (tomato cages) and fencing, not to mention the garden time.

I am not sure how much I spend in a given year, but it must be a few hundred dollars unless I found crazy good deals or started my own seedlings.

If you are willing to get your plants in late, you can find great end of seedling season deals at the farmers market.

Which again begs the questions, do farmers selling seedlings at the farmers market compete against themselves by promoting home gardens?

I figure that gardeners are the same customers who shop at the market, and they end up buying less because they bought seedlings.

I guess it ends up being a matter of timing because farmers end up having seasonal produce available before the gardener has theirs, but eventually they catch up with each other.

All of this has me second guessing my garden.

Of course, not all gardeners grow enough and many farmers market shoppers do not gardener at all.

Part of me thinks that at least on a local food movement level that I should still grow a garden, but I am starting to think about growing a high yield, low labor, low cost donation garden if I want to push local food to donate.

And that buying from a local farmer would make more sense.

Is the local food movement about growing more local food as efficently as possible and getting that food to more local mouths?

Are we simply playing a numbers game?

To a large extent, I think it is.

When I go to the farmers market, I still see tables of produce left at the end of the day.

If the local food movement is so big and growing, wouldn’t there be a run on local food with every vendor selling out?

After all only a small presentage of the food produced and consumed in any given area is local.

So it stands to reason that if the local food movement is so big given the huge amount of media dedicated to it, we would hear about fights over the last cartoon of eggs and shoving matches at farmers markets over a bunch of kale.

I could be wrong here, but it looks like the local food movement is having a hard time creating a demand for the current yield of food that is being produced let alone pushing for larger growth.

At least that is what it looks like at the farmers market.

The local food movement needs more mouths I figure reagrdless if I have a garden or not.

Westside Farmers Market Run

tatsoi

I was at the Westside Farmers Market today for some great picks.

Yes, even though I have a huge garden, I do not grow everything.

The pick of the day:

Pint of blueberry
Quart of Peaches
4 quarts of Yukon Gold Potatoes: From Hand Sown Farm
2 bunch of Tatsoi Dragon Wood Farm
3 kinds of buns from San Street (chicken, mushroom and tofu) All were great

WHAT IS TATSOI?

I was happy to see the folks at Dragon Wood has this great green vegetable. They had a bunch of it, but no one besides me seemed to know what it was.

I got a few bunches. It is a sweet green. I use is like spinach or a choy and cook it only for a few minutes at the end of a stir fry.

It makes for a great veggie side.

To Prepare:

Stir fry for a few seconds with some oil, garlic and touch of soy, some rice vinegar and a drop of sesame oil. Garnish with some chopped toasted peanuts or sesame seeds.

Westside Farmers Market: Year in Review

Ann Arbor Food

Inchworm Bakery Peach Cobbler with cinnamon buttermilk biscuit topping (yummy)

It was another good year at the Westside Farmers Market. I know everyone talks up their market, but the Westside is the best.

This year the market had some great new additions.

Corridor Sausage Co
Featuring a variety of pork, chicken, beef and lamb sausages

Hand Sown Farm 
Offering a great variety of fresh veggies

I hope they are back next season.

Inchworm Microgreens and Bakery Recap:

Baked Good:

All Made with Organic Flour, Organic Butter, Organic sugar, Organic eggs, Organic spices and fresh local fruits and berries

Rhubarb Pie
Rhubarb Scones
Short cakes
Cinnamon Cakes
Blueberry Pie
Raspberry pie
Sweet and Sour Cherry Pie
(Finally bought a cherry pitter, was hand pitting for hours)
Peach Pie
Peach Cobbler
Slider Buns
Olive Oil Bread
Smoked Sea Salt Chocolate Cookies
Fresh Ginger Oatmeal Cookies

Veggies:
Sunflower Sprouts
Pea Shoots
Potatoes
(Yukon Gold, Kennebeck, Pontiac red, California White, Yellow Finn)
Oyster Mushroom Kits

I was hoping for a Winecap mushroom harvest and better potato yield.

Next Years Plan

Potatoes (5-10 varieties)
Oyster Mushroom and Mushroom Kits
Sprouts and tray grown baby greens
Fruit Pies
Cookies
And…. Savory pies (Meat and greens and cheese)

I have been hooked on these meat and greens and cheese filled pies that they sell at the Middle Eastern grocery near me. They are affordable and ready to eat for a quick lunch. And they keep in a frig for a few days.

I want to make and sell them next year for the Farmers Market

This will require the use of a commercial kitchen, which will take some work arrange, but I love the idea of offering meat filled pies like using Corridor sausages and making greens and cheese with the seasonal fresh greens like spinach, arugula, broccoli, kale, chard, collard, beet greens or what is in season.

See You Next Season!!!!

Farmers Market Vendor Bartering

I am a bartering machine.

For two seasons, I have been a vendor at the Westside Farmers Market in Ann Arbor.

The market is Thursday from 3:00-7:00p.m. As closing time approaches, I jump into action. I look at my inventory and I start to walk around and see who has what and who (other vendors) might want to trade.

This practice came about because I sell sprouts, which will not last until next weeks market. I can only eat so much, so the leftovers will go to my backyard woodchucks.

This means that anything I could get in trade would be a bonus (sorry woodchuck).

I also make baked goods, which includes seasonal fruit and berry pies and other items like cookies, and breads. These are also on the list for trading at markets end because I only sell fresh made that day baked goods.

My rule for barter is that I trade for equal cash value for my items for their items. For example if my pies are $5 I say, “Give $5 worth of zebra tomatoes.” Usually I throw in extra and so do other vendors.

Most vendors are happy to trade for their extra produce.

Bartering is something that I just did and I did not think much of it, but it seems that I started a trend. Other vendors have followed my lead.

Before my bartering, most vendors would pay cash with other vendors usually at a slight vendor courtesy discount and not even consider trading, but now since I started trading many offer to trade first.

Every body wins.

A vendor is not required to trade and many don’t until the market is about to end, but many other vendors do and trading takes place during market times.

Many times I trade for my baked goods during the market to hungry vendors who want a snack. We settle up after the market.

The great thing about bartering is that we all get goods at a discount price. My pies did not cost me $5. Nor did their potatoes, lettuce etc…

It is great way to unload excess produce, which in many cases need to be sold that day or the vendor will take a loss.

I even now bring items to market with the intent to trade. Like for example, this week I made extra cookies more than I thought I could sell so I could trade them.

I feel that a side benefit of trading is that it helps to create a market where there is more variety. If everyone is selling the same thing then there will be little trading for example.

There is also something very farmy about trading. Before Big Ag took over, bartering was a way of life for farmers. Most farmers could not afford to pay cash for everything, so they barter. “You plow my field, I’ll help you harvest yours…and so on.”

I feel that bartering can make a come back. It will not work for everything, but in these days where global capitalism cannot seem to figure which way is up, bartering can take us back to a simpler way of doing things.

Here is a breakdown of this weeks bartering
1 pie, 1 cookie for home-made granola
3 cookies for 3 1/4 pounds of apples
1 pie and 1 cookie for jar of turnip pickles
1 pie and 1 cookie for 1 LB of chicken sausage
1 pie and 2 cookies for 7 acorn squash
2 cookies for heirloom garlic bulbs
1 cookie for 1 bag of french green beans

I figure that I bartered for $41.50 worth of farmers marker fresh food. This was a little more than average, but I will say this.

On days that it rains, which usually is a wash for most outdoor markets, I bring extra baked goods with the assumption that vendors will be primed to trade.

What I lose in sales I make up for some what in extra trading.

Winecap Mushroom Update

Ann Arbor FoodOK for weeks I have been walking out to my pile of winecap mushroom spore inoculated  oak wood chip in the hopes of seeing a large flush of burgundy color mushrooms.

Winecaps are pretty fickle because you never know when they are going to fruit. Other mushrooms are more consistent. It is because of the random natural of winecaps that they are not widely cultivated commercially.

I have talked to people who say that it can take 1-2 years for a wood chip pile to colonize and begin fruiting mushrooms. I started the pile in October with the plan to have mushrooms ready for sale at the Westiside Farmers Market before the season ends in late September.

Well it looks like there is a chance of a harvest. I discovered this little (partly eaten) winecap mushroom in my wood chip pile.

I take this to mean that there can be more to come this season.

Are There Too Many Farmers Markets? Post Two

I posted my take on a NYT article, Are There too Many Farmers Markets

Below are follow up comments via email from Michigan Farmers and/or Farmers Market Managers.

Here are a few of my own ideas to get more people into Farmers Markets instead of the super market.

1) Shuttles: Work with big institutions like Hospitals, Colleges, Large Business Campuses, Churches Etc and offer a schedule shuttle service and/or encourage them to schedule a weekly shuttle using their own transportation.

2) Weekly Promotional Flyers/Emails: Have vendors give a heads up with what will be ready next week including prices. The super markets have weekly flyers all of the time and it works great to bring people into the store for certain things.

3) Offer Debit Card Wooden Token Service: I have had many shoppers run out of cash by the time they come to my booth. Offering an ATM with tokens that can only be spent at the market (or even every market in the state) may keep them shopping and coming back to spend their tokens.

4) Shopping Buddy Program: I just thought this one up. The thought is that instead of shuttling people to the market, one or a few people can go to the market each week and shop for a bunch of people at once. People can take turns shopping/delivering the groceries.

Think of say two Church members shopping for say themselves and 10 others or Student Co-Housing members taking turns getting food for the house.

The issue with Farmers Markets is that they are set times unlike the super market and if you are working or busy on those times you are out of luck even if you really want farmers market produce. This can solve for that. It also allows one person to shop on a bad weather days for a group.

Rain can be a deal breaker for shoppers, but with this shopping buddy idea, the person still shows up at the market and shops because they are responsible for the group even if their turn was a rain day.

5) Work with Party Planners/Caterers: A few weeks ago, a shopper was buying up the market for a large party she was hosting for I think 50 people. Her bags were packed and I thought, “We can use more people like her at the market.”

6) Participate in food assistance programs: The Westside has been very active in supporting food assistance programs like EBT, Double up Food Bucks, Prescription for Health and others.

7) Get more people cooking: This is the most challenging. The people who come to the market know what to do with an ear of corn, a bunch of beets, a head of broccoli and a create of tomatoes. We need more of these people (home cooks) if we want more customers at Farmers Markets. Food demos and recipes suggestion can go a long way.
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Farmer/Vender/Market Managers Comments:

I have thought about this question for the last few years.  I do a market in Northern part of Michigan,  The market has been going on for 20= years.  Well, about 5-6 years ago, the group that was in charge of the market decided they didn’t need the funds from the market and they couldn’t get any one to take over.  Having said this, we now are run in part by a Farmers Market board, which has 5 business 2 farmers from our market, 1 crafter from our market, and 1 local resident who asked to be on the board.

One of the things I have noticed in the last 5 years, it is not so much the number of markets that are around.  But, the fact that if the vendors are not from our local area.  Then  they should be bringing in some customers from where they are from.

Yes our market is one of the few who allow crafts, but, our market has grown (what I think) so large that even if the people in the area came and made purchased at the market they only have so much money to spend.  So, if you have alot of vendors from other area, then they should be bring customers with them.  I’m not saying that they cannot come to sell their items at the market.  But, you should ask that they at east bring some new customer with them.   Our market runs from 8am – 12 noon, which, if you want the freshest produces, meat, eggs, breads, that you have to get to the market early.

I have told the board that the that the products we sell which ARE ALL HANDMADE ITEMS, and they are also jury into the market, so we have to tell them what we are selling, what the product is, how it is made, the materials are used to make the item, and how the item is used.  This process in its self has caused some problems for the crafters.  It has not hurt the sales of the farmers, but our market has grow to twice to four times what it was when I first started going to the market.  I do understand that you want to have a variety of items at the market, and that compatition is a good thing for everyone, but how much is too much.

We have a 30 miles radius for vendors of our items, unless you have a special item then you can sell at the market.  When we first started doing this market, we would make $100+ on a Wednesday and then $200-300, on a Saturday.  Now we are lucky if we make $200 total for both days.

I do feel there are too many markets, out there, and now there is really no one really watching to make sure that things are being done correctly, first and fore most for the consumer, and then for the vendor.
There is no easy answer to this, and I’m sure there are going to be as many who think we need more market, and the ones who think we have too many.  The best thing you can do for your market, is be sure people know about you, word of mouth is the best advertising there is.  And if need have some type of event to get people to stop, once you get them to stop, it will be natural for them to stop on the way home, to work, ect.

I hope this makes things a bit clearer for you.  I could talk your ear off about Farmers Market, but, if you have a good product, people will come and get it.

Susan Oelke
Vanderbilt, MI
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Hi,
I believe there are too many farmers markets. It has opened wider the door to reselling of farm produce and fruits from whatever source. While the seller might be “local”, can we say the same for the produce and fruit?
Oakland County Market.

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Well, overall, I am seeing some decline in numbers of buyers.  Possible causes – we have some changes each year in vendors – we do only produce and value added (baked goods, jams, syrup, wool).
We have 3 markets within 7 miles and about 8 more within the county, two more started this year.  We also have a CSA..
Answers? None specific, but I know having live musicians has helped.  Creating a “glad to see you” street party atmosphere helped.  Having a coffeeshop with great coffee across the street, and free parking, helped. The cottage food bill helped.   What has given us the kick in the pants was the economy and a little bit of greed on part of marketers.   I had people going to a different market because his quarts of tomatoes were $3 instead of $4.  Market was 7 miles away (okay, so I know they spen t that dollar on gas).
But yes, people will buy.  They’re just buying less, on a budget.  The buying is down, but there is a constant flow.  People are trying new stuff (sprouts), flowers, herbs.  We have, in past years, given away recipes.  Everyone will give growing advice.
As a volunteer manager, I have done this 7 years.  We try very hard to have farm grown and farmer-direct (ie.blueberries) and not auction produce.  I had someone say our produce was more expensive than Horrock’s.  Well, yes, we don’t get it dropped off at the doorstep.  Somebody has to go weed! Hmm, guess I gotta go do that this morning!
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good morning,

     my name is Melissa Gavin of gavin orchards- coopersville, michigan..the article mentions too many farmer’s markets, i see that as only part of the problem.

The explosion of farmer’s markets has really at some level put both the consumer, and the farmers at risk.

Right now in our community at most of the farmers markets i attend, it is about how many vendors they can get. no matter what they are selling , or if they even grew it. and i bet most vendors don’t even know where the commodities they are selling were grown. if in fact even in  michigan. i feel this is a huge risk to the consumer. what about food safety? how are these vendors keeping thier product cool? do they know the right temperture each one should be at to maintain quality and safety!..

So what i am saying is too many markets? not real sure on that answer, i do believe it is a great venue for the farmer to sell thier products straight to the consumer, but when a farmer has to sell most of it to wholesale distributors who then sells them to a person(vendor-reseller) to be sold at local farmer’s markets for a quick buck, i dont feel that is fair..especially when they are attending the same markets you attend and then are undercuting you..because they have no overhead or risk at stake. because they are not going to be held liable for the product and it’s safety..like the farmer is.. with food safety audits, liability insurance, taxes and for that matter a business liscence. and a recall! wich by them not having the equiptment or knowledge of keeping food safe, is a likely senerio..

I am not mad, i am just very frustrated. i feel all these farmer’s market and thier managers need to re-evaluate, what is important to thier communities. i am hoping it is food safety.
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I have seen this debate before and it is an interesting one. Can there be too many markets in a area? For sure, but more and more markets seem like they can only be good for the movement. We are into our second year as a market and at least 90% of our customers rarely, if ever went to another market. Have we taken customers from other markets? Yes, we have, but I think it’s putting pressure on other markets to do what we do: music, demos and special days.

The Westside Market has for sure put pressure on the old standby, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and that is a good thing. Adding an evening may hurt Westside, but I doubt it. Less gas to get to a market can be part of the equation.
The key thing about markets, is that whatever food business we do, we are statistically insignificant. If we steal 1/10 of 1% from the grocery stores, then we should look at expanding our base and get up to 1/5 (I have no idea what the real numbers are). To act like there are a limited number of market customers is the big mistake. To make it a goal to convert new customers to the movement is what’s important here. Whole Foods Market and CSAs hurt farm markets too, but is that to say that we should discourage either one of those, when they are both an excellent thing?
We are a small market and we have 250-300 people at our Saturday market, and I say to myself every week, how can we grow that number with new customers? The food is good, the vendors are nice, the thing is fun. Who wouldn’t want to come? Yes, we have 6-8,000 homes within 20 minutes, yet the local Kroger is doing our yearly gross in a couple of hours. I’m sure some would says this is not important, but I want to know how markets can be more than a blip in the economy?
I have one small farm that travels to 5 markets a week. With all that gas, it may negate the benefits of being local at all. There are detractors that say farmers like this uses more energy than transporting the same amount all the way from Florida or California. This is a whole different debate, but should be considered in the debate of too many markets too.
I have another vendor that stopped going to Eastern Market because with our market and their new farm stand, they don’t have to travel as far to sell all their product. This is the ideal situation, and the impact is so much better all around.
Market Managers should be asking themselves every week how they can get more customers to the market. Vendors and farmers should be asking their customers to tell their friends about what makes their market so good, so markets can make a bigger dent in the food system. Farms are businesses. Markets are businesses too (though non-profit) and the free market always has a way of working things out the way they need to be.
Sean McClellan
Dundee Farmers Market.
(734) 529-2688

Inchworm Micrgreens and Pie

Today’s offerings at the Westside Farmers Market today from 3:00-7:00PM are:

Cinnamon Cake: A coffee cake with a cinnamon and sugar swirled inside

Rhubarb Pie: Local rhubarb, all butter crust

Both made with organic sugar, org flour, org eggs, rbgh free butter (tilimook)

Pea Shoots and Sunflower Shoots

Grown in organic soil

Sunflower seeds are organic pea are natural from Johnny Seeds