The Midland Area Farmers Market is a business incubator

The Midland Area Farmers Market offers many things to many people. It’s a great place to buy fresh produce, cut flowers or a hanging plant for a loved one, a tasty cup of coffee, or a breakfast burrito to get the day started.A couple takes an early morning stroll through the Midland Area Farmers Market.

On a typical Saturday in July and August, there are up to 65 to 70 vendors at the market, with 3,500 to 4,500 persons doing some shopping. The market’s also open on Wednesday mornings. It’s currently located by Dow Diamond.  “It’s a great event, as well as a wonderful way to support local business and agriculture,” says Emily Lyons, the manager of the Farmers Market. What’s less known is the Farmers Market has become a small business incubator.
Two of the more recent businesses to spin off and get their own storefronts are the Egyptian Koshery and Enjoy! Bakery.  

Dale and Riham Erdman are the owners of the Eqyptian Koshery, now located in the Eastlawn Plaza in Midland, by Cottage Inn Pizza. The couple met while attending Saginaw Valley State University. Dale was studying biochemistry while Riham was on a Fulbright Scholarship, here from her native Egypt, teaching Arabic language and culture. Dale says, “When I went to Egypt, her family took me to one of the most popular koshery spots in Cairo. As soon as we pulled in, I knew I wanted to do this back in the U.S., offer an Egyptian koshery restaurant… When I first had it, it was one of the most delicious things I’d ever eaten.”
Egyptian koshery is the most popular dish in Egypt.
Riham says, “Koshery is the most popular dish in Egypt. It has layers of noodles, rice, lentils, chickpeas, fried onions, and tomato sauce.” A diner can add a hot or garlic sauce. “It's a vegan dish. It can be gluten free, “ says Dale. 

After the couple married in Egypt in September 2013, they had to wait two years before Riham could move to the United States on a fiance’s visa.  Not long after she came to live here, they first offered koshery at the Saginaw Farmers Market,  on May 3, 2016. After learning about Midland’s market, they started selling here a week later, where they had instant success. Dale says, “The customers here in Midland were open minded to our authentic menu.”

The koshery is one of several food truck or restaurant vendors at the market.  Dale says, “The other food trucks have been great. We’re not in competition with the meat trucks. They send us customers who want vegan, and we send them customers who want meat.”
Some of the Egyptian Koshery's best selling items include spinach pie, lentil soup, and apricot pudding.
The feedback they received led the Erdmans to make a big decision, “Midland people told us they wanted us to put a storefront in Midland. They’ve been telling us that for five years. In our fifth, we were able to do it.”  Business has been challenged with the aftermath of the 2020 flood and COVID-19 but they’ve decided to keep a presence at the Farmers Market.  Dale says, “The reason we go to the market is to tell people our storefront is here.” They’re grateful to the Midland Business Alliance (MBA) for buying gift cards this past winter, one of the MBA’s efforts to support businesses during COVID. The Erdmans have three employees.
The Egyptian Koshery is located in the Eastlawn Plaza in Midland, next to Cottage Inn Pizza.The Egyptian Koshery is open everyday from 11:00am-5:00pm. They hope to expand their hours this fall. Their Facebook page is always updated. In addition to koshery, the best selling items are spinach pie, lentil soup, and apricot pudding. They also offer four flavors of Turkish coffee. 

Enjoy! Bakery first started selling at the Farmers Market in 2019. The owner, Kimberlee Owens, says, “We sold made from scratch donuts, cinnamon rolls, and random odds and ends.” Kimberlee and her mom, Nancy Squanda, made the products in Nancy’s kitchen, following the requirements of  Michigan’s Cottage Food Law. Owens says, “We were very successful, a lot of returning customers.” 
Enjoy! Bakery is located on the Ashman Circle in Midland's Center City.
Squanda appreciates the advice they received from Lyons with the Farmers Market, “Emily gave us the backstory about how to sell, the best way to sell; we bought our canopy tent, the colors...we really wanted to build our brand.”  Lyons offers other advice to potential vendors, “Maybe they don’t consider liability insurance. They think they can sell their product for $2 but they haven’t considered the cost of packaging, labeling, and branding. We can connect them to people who provide assistance with those kinds of things.”  Lyons credits the market master, Stephanie Frye, for being the “boots on the ground,” supporting the vendors on market days.

Enjoy! didn’t have a presence at the market in 2020 because they weren’t certain about what to do given COVID-19.  They ended up doing custom orders from home including cakes for weddings. Owens says, “Throughout 2020, we talked about opening a store. We learned this opportunity was open to us so we opened in October 2020.” They opened the bakery on Ashman Circle in Midland’s Center City. They rent the store including a kitchen from Pop-Pop’s owners, Gene and Patricia McFarland.  Owens says, “They’ve definitely been a big help, teaching us and showing us how to get a business up and running.” Pop-Pop’s also has a presence at the Farmers Market.
Enjoy! Bakery has a different theme each month.Owens worked as a pharmacy technician at Meijer in Midland for five years. She got married in 2018 and then decided to go back to school to study business management at Northwood. Owens is still working on her degree, but she says, “I decided to do something fun, something I like doing in my life.’ That something was baking. Now, she’s added ownership of a business, “It’s definitely hard work. There’s a lot they don’t teach you in school. I’ve learned a lot, business, accounting, definitely has been very rewarding. I’ve grown a lot in the last 9-10 months. I never thought I would own a business.”  The business has grown to the point where they’ve added three employees. While Enjoy! wasn’t at the market again this year, they hope to return next year. 
 Kimberlee Owens is the owner of Enjoy! Bakery
Owens says, “It’s nice to create tasty and beautiful treats.”   Some of their signature items are sugar cookies topped with a butter creme. They also sell cupcakes in eight different flavors and  they make breakfast items. They have different themes each month, which changes some of the menu, but they keep the favorites on hand. Owens says the best way to access the store is to turn off Ashman Street and drive behind Smith’s Flowers. The store is  open Thursdays & Fridays, 8:00am-5:30pm and Saturdays, 8:00am-3:00pm. They also have a Facebook page.

Lyons, with the MBA, says “We see the Farmers Market as a great stepping stone, especially if they are supporting local agriculture by purchasing items and putting them in their products.” When a new storefront opens, Lyons says, “We’re ecstatic..that it will bring in more people to Center City, downtown, wherever that business locates.”    Other businesses in MIdland that have started at the market and now have stores include Creation Coffee, Crepes Et Amis, O’Macaron, and Pizza Baker


Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom has served as the managing editor of Catalyst Midland since October 2020. He's also a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He's the co-producer of two WDCQ documentaries about the Tittabawassee River Disaster in 2020, "Breached! and Breached!2-The Recovery."