Midland Area Farmers Market brings community together

On Saturday mornings you will often find the end of Ashman Street bustling with vendors and community members as locals shop for groceries, pick up cider and donuts, or grab lunch at a local food truck. It is just a typical day at the Midland Area Farmers Market.

Referred to as the “Eastern Market of the north,” you can expect to walk into a sea of produce, artisanal items, and ethnic foods. Whether it is fresh fruits and vegetables or a bar of soap, laundry detergent or cheese — you can find it all at the market.

“The Midland Area Farmers Market is where we got our start,” says Brandon Morey, owner of Crepes Et Amis.

Crepes Et Amis now has a storefront on Townsend Street, but Brandon and his wife Katie Morey first started their business from a food truck based at the market. Originally planning to open a coffee shop, they decided they wanted to find their own niche and through inspiration from friends, landed on crepes.

“Several of the recipes on the menu right now started in the food truck,” adds Katie Morey, owner of Crepes Et Amis. “The market helped us get familiar with what we were doing before taking a big step with the restaurant. I would say the market helped us build the recipe for our success.”

Crepes Et Amis spent three seasons as a food truck at the market before opening as a storefront in March 2015. It was during this time that the Moreys were able to build relationships, develop a customer base and test out their product.

“We would have 45-minute-to-an-hour lines, and some Saturdays we would sell upwards of 100 crepes in four hours,” says Morey. “The response we got at the Midland market was unlike any other we had seen. To date, it is the most profitable we have been, and that’s why when we decided to open a brick and mortar location, we realized we had to do it here.”

Drawing vendors from Clare, Stanton, Farwell, Linwood, Kawkawlin, Holly, Milford, Fenton, Ludington, Unionville and the tri-county area, the market is a place where north meets south, where different walks of life intersect.

“Midland has a place that gives budding entrepreneurs a home. It’s an inexpensive way to start something,” says Emily Lyons, Director of Education Programs at the Midland Chamber of Commerce and Farmers Market Manager. “We make sure to promote new and existing vendors to make sure the community is aware of up and coming offerings.”

In past years, the market has seen a peak of 5,000 people in a day and nearly 100 vendors from all across the state. At only twenty-five dollars per day, it offers an affordable way for small farms or businesses to get their name and products out there.

“The community is very supportive of natural, home grown products,” says Ruth Chamberlin, who owns and operates Talking Berry Farm in Ovid, Michigan with her husband. “Farmers can’t survive in an environment where people aren’t willing to pay a little more for a better quality product, and Midland is great for that opportunity.”

Every Wednesday and Saturday, you will find her selling fresh jams, syrups, and pies at the market. Her three children — ages 5, 7 and 9 — help out with the farm and market on a rotating basis.

“When we first started coming here, all the kids wanted to come. That’s why we made a schedule,” says Chamberlin. “The market has become their community — it’s a big family. The reason I brought everyone today is there are only a couple weeks of market left, and they want to tell their friends — who are some of the other vendors — ‘bye’ and ‘see you next season.’”

As the children wander from vendor to vendor, picking out peppers or a chocolate-covered pretzel from George’s Armenian Pastries. They learn how to make change and listen to George describe the family recipes that have been passed down through his mom or an aunt, and it is evident that both have built a place in each others’ hearts.

“The vendors all work together— we trade and barter. I have not bought vegetables all summer, and I get my soap from here now,” reiterates Chamberlin pointing to Cabana Soaps of Midland, whose stall is set up across from her. “I love it. It makes it so that people like us can survive off doing what we love. Because without markets like this one, it’s not sustainable.”

The market implements a Double Up Food Bucks Program through the Michigan Farmers Market Association and Fair Food Network of Ann Arbor for attendees using EBT credits. Anyone using a state bridge card can receive up to $20 in matching funds to spend on Michigan fresh produce from the market per day.

“It’s a great way to put dollars into our farmers’ pockets, and provide healthy, fresh and local food for those who are economically disadvantaged at this moment in their lives,” says Emily Lyons of the program.

Community sponsors like the Chippewa Nature Center, Greater Midland Community Center, and Little Forks Conservancy also provide family-friendly activities and workshops. Whether it is a bounce house, tennis lessons or workshops about organisms in the area, the market offers something for all ages.

“It’s a gathering place for the community, and a way to get to know your farmer,” adds Lyons. “When I first moved here, this market was one of the quality-of-life factors that impacted my decision. It is so important to know where your food comes from.”

No one can pinpoint how long the market has been around, but vendors tell stories of growing up in between stalls of peaches. Some vendors have been coming for generations, first to the market as kids alongside their parents and now as vendors of their own and others are joining for their first season. Regardless, it is the makings of a longstanding tradition for all involved.

“I will always hold the Midland Area Farmers Market in high regard because it essentially helped me provide for my family,” echoes Brandon from Crepes Et Amis.

The Midland Area Farmers Market operates on both Wednesday and Saturday from early May through late October.
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