Blog: Molly Notarianni

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers... and we bet he sold 'em at a farmers market. This week Ann Arbor Farmers Market Manager Molly Notarianni digs up the social and economic edge to a market where the personality-to-product ratio is higher than you'll find in any store.

Post 3 - Food by the way of ice shanty: Farmers Market veterans brave the winter

Apple vendor Alex Nemeth is somewhat of a legend at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.  He started coming to the market when he was only one year old, and some of his earliest memories involve taking naps in bushel baskets as his parents sold fruit.  Last Saturday Alex turned 80, and the only reason he wasn't at market was because he had already sold out of all of his apples for the season.  Alex has seen a lot happen at market over the last 79 years.  He speaks of a time when each vendor was limited to one stall (today many vendors have three), and every single one of the 144 stalls in the market were full.

The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is open year-round on Saturdays, and has been for the last 91 years.  Despite this, nearly every Saturday I receive phone calls asking when the market season starts up again.  It is understandable – after all, what is available in the middle of winter?  Last Saturday, I found eggs, meat, bread and baked goods, cheese and yogurt, honey, maple syrup, apples, storage crops (think potatoes and winter squash), fall's cabbage preserved as sauerkraut, and even a selection of greens, from sturdier chard to delicate salad mix (for an up-to-the-minute look at what's at market each week, check out the awesome website Real Time Farms!).  Perhaps not as flashy as tomatoes or strawberries, but these are the sorts of things that are available if we really want to eat with the seasons.

Braving Midwestern winters is not for everyone, but to me, being at market in winter feels like a wonderful celebration of being a Michigander.  Everything is a little less crowded and a little less hectic.  I  am surrounded by the folks that comprise my community, I'm outside enjoying the season, and I'm buying food directly from those who have produced it;  what could be more meaningful?

There are so many special and exciting things happening these days in the world of food in Washtenaw County.  Countless new farms are springing up, restaurants have turned their focus towards local producers, food entrepreneurs start creative new businesses, and soon even students in the Ann Arbor Public Schools will be able to enjoy food from school gardens in their cafeterias!

Alex tells stories of blizzards and ice storms when he was the only vendor who was able to make it to market.  He tells me of a time when vendors would bring ice fishing shanties to market and set up inside of them, for protection from the elements.   People have always needed to buy food, and the Ann Arbor Farmers Market has always been the heart of the community.  It takes talking to people like Alex to remind me of the implicit meaning of the word "relocalization".  A sustainable food future involves both the history and knowledge preserved in root cellars and the new technology that provides us with hoophouse greens 52 weeks of the year.  While there is something adorable and quaint about being handed eggs through a tiny window of an ice shanty, the best solutions will come from building on the strong foundation of Washtenaw County's agricultural heritage, while discarding the things that no longer work.  It is an exciting and dynamic time.  Get to know your food producers.  Listen to their stories.  The more things change, the more they stay the same!

PS:  If you are interested in hearing more fantastic stories from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, please keep in touch with our ongoing Oral History Project.  Interviews completed to date can be found here, and we are always looking for volunteers who are interested in conducting interviews of vendors, shoppers, and other folks who have a connection to the Market!