Kalamazoo Farmers Market: 'A Masterpiece in the Making'

Our wintry Michigan weather gives way, finally, to spring. A sure sign: farmers market opening day announcements, including the highly anticipated season start for the Kalamazoo Farmers Market. The May 4 debut for 2013 also marks a change in management oversight from the City of Kalamazoo to the People’s Food Co-op. 
Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell is among the area’s chorus of voices expressing unbridled enthusiasm about the next phase in the city’s 60-plus-year-old Market:  "The Kalamazoo Farmers Market is yet another aspect of the community that makes it a vibrant place and an amazing masterpiece in progress. The People’s Food Co-op will help this already great Market become world-class through increased transparency and PlaceMaking.  I know the City will continue to be a partner in making the Market even more awesome."
Chris Broadbent, Market Manager, will oversee operations. Local food enthusiasts know Broadbent from his leadership of the Co-op’s 100 Mile Market and his unrelenting passion for increasing access to – and creating community around – good, healthy food. He recently talked with Second Wave to share his vision for the Market.  
SECOND WAVE: The former Executive Director of the Farmers Market Coalition, Stacy Miller, says that "Customers deserve to know exactly what they are buying, and farmers markets are responsible for earning and maintaining consumer trust in the direct relationships with local farmers." What are your thoughts on her statement? (Editor's note: The Farmers Market Coalition describes itself as a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets across the United States so that the markets can serve as community assets while providing real income opportunities for farmers.)
CHRIS BROADBENT:  Mayor Hopewell talked about "transparency" and that is what I believe is meant by Stacy Miller’s statement.  We will share widely with our community information about the Market, the businesses that are participating, pictures and stories and backgrounds on the people and places that make our Market so vibrant. Vendor profiles will be created, and many will be featured on our web page. The forms we are using to collect and validate information for the profiles and stories will be available in hard copy in a binder at the Market for anyone to view. The goal is to have this information for customers to better understand the market, the vendors and their businesses, and to provide a starting point for questions and conversations between shoppers and sellers. 
Another aspect of transparency is for customers to be able to make informed decisions about the food they buy, and a new initiative this year will be vendor signage.  Color-coded signs in English and Spanish will be prominently displayed denoting a "grower/producer," which means at least 80 percent of the products sold are grown or produced by them at their business. A "retailer" designation means more than 20 percent of his/her products were grown or produced by someone else or a place other than their business. 
I know there has been a lot of focus on locally grown food at markets across Michigan, which is great for many reasons like growing the economy and to reduce the distance our food travels. I think it's also important to say that resellers and brokers of wholesale foods from outside our region participate in a way that is significant. They provide a very valuable service even though they aren’t growing the food themselves.

SECOND WAVE: What tools will be used to share information as widely as possible?
BROADBENT: Customers and vendors will see we are embracing both low-tech information sharing, such as the hard copy vendor profiles and table signage, and online social media tools, including Facebook, where we already have about 6,500 fans, and Twitter (@kzoofarmrsMarkt). Our website launches on opening day, May 4.
SECOND WAVE: Will the Market continue to be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays?
BROADBENT:  Absolutely! We are running with the model and successes of the prior years’ Market management and building on those in order to grow the volume of both vendors and shoppers on Tuesdays and Thursdays (starting in June) by inviting the community to have lunch and shop with us after work. Food trucks are all the rage at markets across the country and we're excited to have several lined up, including Gorilla Gourmet, La Guatelmalteca Tacos, Pizza Vera, Organic Gypsy, and Smoothie Operator. These food truck vendors will also be at the Market on Saturdays.
SECOND WAVE: Mayor Hopewell referred to "PlaceMaking" in his comment about the future of the Market. What does that mean?
BROADBENT:  It’s all about creating connections. For me, the most exciting and rewarding thing about the Market is helping to create relationships between families and the food vendors. The term "PlaceMaking" comes from the Project for Public Spaces (PPS). The idea is to bring the community together around a shared vision and celebrate our assets.  The Market is widely recognized as a very important asset and our vision is to create an inviting space for community connections around food. We’ll do that in two ways initially: first, by blocking off car access to the inside area of the Market square on either side of the office/restroom building. This will allow space for a lot more vendors. The second part of the plan for making the Market space inviting is the addition of four picnic tables. Shoppers will have tables where they can enjoy prepared food.  And what’s really cool about these picnic tables is they are made of re-purposed wood from the Edison Go GREEN  Deconstruction Program. This high-quality, recycled material will end up getting a lot of use at our Market instead of going to a landfill.  
SECOND WAVE: You administered the Kalamazoo Farmers Market’s food assistance programs over the past couple years. Why is it important to grow these programs?
BROADBENT: Because everyone should have access to healthy, fresh food and one of the best places to get it is the local farmers’ market. Vendor participation at our Market is voluntary, but most participate in programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)  what used to be called food stamps, Senior Project Fresh and WIC Project Fresh. We are excited to be among over 100 Michigan farmers markets participating in Double Up Food Bucks, which enables SNAP Bridge Card users to stretch their food purchases by using bonus tokens for Michigan produce. We know the demand for fresh fruits and vegetables is high: City markets (Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, the 100 Mile Market and the Douglas Farmer’s Market) saw a 45 percent growth in SNAP benefit usage from 2011 to 2012. That is huge. It represents economic investment in our community’s local food businesses, farmers and their families. We expect continued growth in these programs as we increase awareness about them.
SECOND WAVE: Thanks, Chris, for sharing your vision, passion and plans for the Kalamazoo Farmers Market.
BROADBENT:  Thanks, and I look forward to seeing everyone on opening day, May 4!

Outlets for Donna McClurkan’s food-related passions include serving on the Board and Policy Committee of the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), co-moderating the EatLocalSWMich Yahoo Group and crafting occasional articles on local food initiatives. 

Market details
Kalamazoo Farmers Market: Opens Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 4,1204 Bank St., Kalamazoo. The Market is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, May through November, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, June through October.
The 100-Mile Market--Happens 3-7 p.m., every Wednesday evening from May-October, in the parking lot on the corner of Ransom and Harrison Streets.
For further information regarding a market near you check out this website.

Read more articles by DONNA McCLURKAN.

Donna McClurkan is a mother, garden farmer, and climate activist with the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition.