Farmers' markets are taking over the U.P. this summer

The farm-to-table movement is hitting full steam across the United States. Americans are increasingly turning down overly processed foods in favor of locally produced meat and veggies delivered directly to the consumer. Luckily, there is no shortage of options for Yoopers from Marquette to Manistique and Sault Ste. Marie.

The grand opening of the Marquette Farmers' Market's 2013 season is just around the corner on May 25 with live music to commemorate the occasion from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market will continue to run every Saturday 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. through October 26.

Down south, Manistique's farmers' market recently had their opening for the season, welcoming an opening day record of 282 shoppers for "fresh eggs, yummy baked goods, U.P. maple syrup, honey, vegetable plants, and early spring flowers."

They will continue to run every Wednesday until September 11 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Little Bear West Arena.

And finally, on the eastern end, the Sault Ste. Marie farmers' market will be welcoming locals Wednesdays from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Though the times, vendors, and locations may differ, all have the same message: Meet the people who make your food. It's a welcoming idea to anyone remotely familiar with the process behind mass food production, or even the health benefits of eating locally.

Sault Ste. Marie's market history dates back to the early 1980s. But a lack of space to sell produce closed the market throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. It wasn't until 2003 that the market came back to life after two farmers asked the Michigan State University Extension office in Sault Ste. Marie for help in rebuilding the farmers' market. Slowly but surely, the market has regained momentum.

"Downtown Sault Ste. Marie again expects hundreds of shoppers and scores of vendors to set up each Wednesday through November," says Justin Knepper, downtown manager at the Sault Ste. Marie Downtown Development Authority.

Heading west, Marquette's current market began in the summer of 1999 in a parking lot at the corner of Fourth and West Washington streets with just one farmer participating.

"By 2003, we felt fortunate to add the 's' to the name with four participating farmers," quips Mona Lang, executive director of the Marquette Downtown Development Authority. Like Sault Ste. Marie, Marquette's market, too, has been growing over time, securing a designated location in 2007 at the Marquette Commons.

"The number of farmers and artists participating in the market has grown exponentially with the current season of 41 participating market vendors, which is the maximum number of spaces available at the site," explains Lang. "The market averages 500 visitors per week, which has grown over 40 percent the last 10 years." That includes a 70 percent increase in revenue over that same time period.

Manistique, however, joined the movement relatively recently. The City of Manistique worked with the Strategic Alliance for Health, a community-based organization for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, toward a 10-month timeline throughout 2010 to create a test market. The idea was to gauge community and farmer support.

Though the farm-to-table movement was clearly growing, Manistique had reason to be cautious. This, after all, was not their first attempt at bringing a farmers' market to town, and there were naysayers who believed a farmers' market simply couldn't work in the small town of 3,000.

Kerry Ott, market master at the Manistique Farmers' Market, says they heeded the lessons of previously failed attempts. Proposed rules were too complicated, not enough local agriculture, disagreements among farmers and organizers, and lack of community support are some of the reasons Ott lists a Manistique farmers' market had not yet found success.

This time, however, Ott and her colleagues used contacts at the Michigan State University Extension, and started conversations amongst the community and local media to generate interest. By the time the test market went live on August 10, 2010, the naysayers were proven wrong.

Wind and rain pushed the inaugural event indoors. But that did not quell community support.

"To our amazement, not only were the six farmers ready and excited for the market, more than 300 Manistique area residents showed up for this test market," Ott recalls. "Our six farmers were sold out long before the 7 p.m. closing time, and they, along with the shoppers, were asking why we had to wait until 2011 to have more farmers' markets."

Needless to say the schedule was immediately revised to allow for more frequency.

Economically speaking, farmers' markets have proven to be winners for all involved. Ott is happy to share some news that will have any skeptical town converted and preaching the gospel of farm-to-table in no time.

In July 2012, the Manistique Farmers' Market conducted an economic impact study on their market.

"Results showed that shoppers spend about $14 average per person while at the market," says Ott. "And those who came specifically into Manistique for the farmers' market spend another $3,700 at area businesses while in town."

Joe Baur is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Cleveland. He's also the Sections Editor of hiVelocity. You can contact him at
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