Even the Kalamazoo Farmers Market is drive through for now

After 62 years, and for the first time ever, the Kalamazoo Farmers Market opened its season with drive-through service on May 2. A dozen vendors made the best of the challenge to bring fresh produce to the community during the COVID19 stay-at-home order. The market will continue in this fashion – shoppers order and pay in advance with each vendor – until it opens in a more recognizable format on Saturday, June 6 (Tuesdays and Thursdays will follow, see market roundup below).

Market Manager Katelyn Bekken confirms it was a slow start.

“We had a decent turnout, but we heard later that some folks were hesitant to order the first week. It’s increased since then, and one of our vendors has had 70 orders each week.” 

Bekken and colleagues from Peoples’ Food Co-op, which manages the market, started in late March working on creative ways to open in May.  

How to drive through the Kalamazoo Farmers Market

“Together with PFC General Manager Chris Dilley and Marketing Manager Katie Justa, we sought guidance from the Michigan Farmers Market Association, and worked in collaboration with the City of Kalamazoo Parks and Rec Department to develop a way to offer safe shopping,” she says, adding that not every vendor was able to pivot to pre-ordering.  

”Some of our vendors live in rural areas without reliable enough internet to be actively updating a website. Others have taken things into their own hands and are setting up in random places around town.” 

Walk-up shopping has been found Wednesday afternoons outside 600 Kitchen and Bar, and Saturday mornings outside Food Dance and Michigan Egg (across from the Kik Pool), and the Bank Street Winter Market (until the Kalamazoo Farmers Market opens). Bekken says June will bring a more familiar operation, but with major changes. 

“Even when the executive order ends, we have decided to still limit the operations to ensure everyone’s safety. While we love the gathering of community on market days – up to 5,000 on a hot summer Saturday – it’s critical for the health of everyone that we follow guidelines for shopping during the pandemic.”

PFC Marketing Manager Katie Justa and a customer at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market.

Shoppers (no more than 200 at a time) will find a single entry and one-way traffic, plus distancing and safety measures. About 80 vendors (down from an average 120) will sell state-deemed essential provisions -- food, beverages, personal hygiene items, pet food/treats – from spaced stalls throughout the pavilion. Non-essential products, like jewelry or cut flowers, may only be sold by vendors selling essential products as well. 

“We encourage people to shop quickly -- do your research, know what you’re after, and be strategic about getting in and getting out.” 

Most challenging for the Saugatuck native personally at this time – besides postponing her August wedding – has been “not being able to make everyone happy. We really care about our local food system and our vendors and we’re doing what we think is right. We’re learning as we’re going, and we appreciate everyone’s support.” 

She is hopeful for the return of all the extras that make the Market such a vibrant hub – the music, food trucks, and children’s activities that add so much to the shopping experience. The Taste of the Market program, in which local chefs demonstrate recipes from Market products, may go online when the dust settles. 

The Bank Street location became home to Kalamazoo’s primary farmers market in 1947. In 2013, the PFC Natural Grocery and Deli took over operations from the City of Kalamazoo. Changes soon after included signage indicating whether a vendor is a grower, retailer, producer or artisan; the addition of live music and food trucks; and adding 40 more vendor spaces using the uncovered space in the middle of the market. In 2014, the Market was ranked #24 on the 101 Best Farmers Markets in 2014 by the DailyMeal.com.

Bekken vows the team will continue to respond to evolving wisdom and best practices, with a refrain that’s becoming all too familiar. 

“Maybe we never go back to the exactly the way we were.”    

Know before you go for May 23 and May 30 markets
  • Shop online in advance with participating vendors  -- most ask for orders by Friday at noon if not sooner. 
  • Enter off at the north side of the market for one-way traffic to the vendors you’ve ordered from. 
  • Open your trunk or roll down your window for contact-free order fulfillment.
  • If you step outside your vehicle, please wear a cloth mask and practice social distancing.



Bank Street Winter Market, 1157 Bank St., Saturdays through May 30, 8 a.m.-12 p.m.

Battle Creek Farmers Market, 25 S McCamly St.: Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-2 pm; Fridays, 3-7 p.m.

Kalamazoo Farmers Market, 1204 Bank St.: May 23 & May 30, 8 a.m.-1 p.m., for contact-free pickup of prepaid orders. Starting June 6: 7 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays, Tuesdays 8 a.m.-1 pm, and Thursdays 2-6 p.m.

Marshall Area Farmers Market, 125 W. Green St.: Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

Plainwell Farmers Market, 554 Allegan St.: Thursdays, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

Portage Farmers Market, 7900 South Westnedge Ave., Sundays starting June 6, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Richland Farmers Market, 9400 E. CD Ave., Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m.

Texas Township Farmers Market, 7110 West Q Ave.: Saturdays 8 a.m. - 12 p.m., Tuesdays 4-7 pm starting June 2

Three Rivers Farmers Market, 138 W. Michigan Ave.: Thursdays starting June 4, 2-6 p.m. / Also in Three Rivers: the Huss Project Market, 1008 8th St.: Saturdays starting June 6, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Vicksburg Farmers Market, 300 N. Richardson St., Fridays starting June 5, 2-6 p.m.

Please explore each market’s website or Facebook page for detailed information and accepted payment methods, including food benefit programs.
A map of the Kalamazoo Farmers Market with new traffic patterns.


Read more articles by Katie Houston.

Katie Houston is a freelance writer and occasional actor whose clients have included the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.