Community Spotlight: Ann Arbor Farmers Market

Starting May 1st, the Wednesday Farmers Market is officially back. (The Farmers Market runs on Saturdays year-round, and runs on both Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer.) After a particularly dark and cold winter, the return of the Wednesday Farmers Market is the light at the end of the tunnel. Stephanie Willette, the market manager, describes the Farmers Market as a “hub of fresh local food”, citing the wide variety of products and vendors that could come on any given market day.

 

This year, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Willette explains that the market began in 1919, and it was originally located on Fourth Avenue near the courthouse. “Then, in 30s, it moved to its current location [in Kerrytown],” Willette says. “This [location] actually used to be a lumber company. They sold it to the Farmers Market, so we set up shop here in the 30s and have been here ever since.”

Given its longevity, the Farmers Market is deeply rooted in tradition. “We have some vendors who have been here for several generations,” Willette says. “Their parents and their grandparents started here. Same with customers; customers come in and they have their favorite vendors that they just have these long standing relationships with.”

One of Willette’s favorite stories that highlights this tradition is about Jeff Nemeth of Nemeth

Greenhouse & Farms, a farm that has been part of the Ann Arbor community since the 1930s. “One of our farmers, Jeff Nemeth, used to come with his parents and his grandparents for selling here,” Willette explains. “They had a t-shirt for him when he was a kid that would say ‘If found, return to stall #20’ and now he has his own kids that he brings. He’s actually got twins on the way.”

Over its one hundred year lifespan, the Farmers Market has become an integral part of the community. The first Wednesday of every month from May to October, the Farmers Market hosts a Food Truck Rally, which Willette describes as “another way to highlight local food businesses.”

Part of the reason a Farmers Market can thrive so well in a city like Ann Arbor is its positive impact on the environment. “Ann Arbor is more eco-friendly and really trying at several levels to be more conscious of the environment,” Willette explains. “[When you purchase food from the Farmers Market], your food is coming from at most a hundred or so miles away, whereas the average food will travel thousands of miles to get to your dinner plate.” Willette also notes that the farming practices at local farms are often more environmentally friendly than those used on larger scale or commodity farms.

The Farmers Market also has a positive impact on its neighborhood: “Everything you spend here, the money is kept inside of our community. People who come to the market also shop around at the neighborhood businesses and coffee shops, so we’re supporting our whole neighborhood– and vice versa. When people come to Kerrytown to go to Zingerman’s, they’ll stop over here at the market.”

The Ann Arbor Farmers Market distinguishes itself from other farmers markets by enforcing a “producer only” policy. “All of our vendors grow and make their own products,” Willette explains. “A lot of other farmers markets, for example, allow you to buy fruits and vegetables and then resell it on the market. We don’t allow that. We have on-farm inspections for every single vendor where we’ll go out to their farm and we’ll see what they’re growing and make sure that it is what they’re selling. We try to be really careful about that.”

The Farmers Market is kicking off the summer on May 1st with the market from 7am-3pm and a Food Truck Rally from 5-8pm. For more events, including Guest Chef Cooking Demos and Kids Activities, check out their website.