That’s the message we got from the 2021 Farmington Farmers Market season. And it says a lot, considering the challenges of the last two years.
To survive the summer of covid in 2020, the Market had to return to its roots: keeping folks healthy with fresh, nutritious farm products in an open-air setting. We became a safe haven for many during a time of uncertainty and even fear. The payoff was big. Many people discovered the Market, helping to make us a true community bright spot. Not surprisingly, we won our fourth-straight title as WDIV’s Best Farmers Market in Metro Detroit.
But it was the Market of 2021 that confirmed our success. When the season ended in early November and market manager Walt Gajewski did the math, he found that we set a single-season attendance record of 100,912 visitors.
“Opening the market in 2020 with strict covid precautions and enjoying such a great season made us realize that we are community caretakers,” said Gajewski. “We faced strong headwinds in 2020, and we blossomed and carried it forward in 2021.”
Things started slowly this past spring. Following state regulations, we opened with the same covid protocols with which we closed in 2020. That meant masks were required, social distancing was encouraged and special programs such as the POP! Club for kids were no-shows.
But as the state’s vaccination rate picked up and infection numbers fell, regulations were relaxed. The mood at the Market lightened, and the shoppers, many of them voluntarily masked, kept coming. And bringing friends.
“I’ve said this a million times over the years: Nine out of 10 people who visit the Farmers Market for the very first time are going to come back, and half of them will bring someone else with them,” Gajewski said. “That’s how this market grows year after year.”
Leading the way
Fueling the record attendance were several programs that skipped 2020 due to covid. They included:
Strawberry Shortcake Day. Taking place over two Saturdays because of sketchy weather, the event sold out 500 portions of homemade biscuits and freshly picked berries courtesy of Kapnick Orchards, one of our vendors. Their crowning glory was vanilla ice cream courtesy of sponsor Calder Dairy.
The Elks Community Corn Roast, with proceeds going to scholarships sponsored by the Elks. With hundreds of ears of corn donated by our farmers, the event was timed to coincide with National Farmers Market Week.
POP! Club. This program for children, emphasizing the Power of Produce, returned in July with the first of three events, each featuring produce brought to market by our farmers. In July we talked about and tasted root vegetables; in August we figured out what’s a fruit and what’s a vegetable – if it has seeds inside, like tomatoes and eggplants, it’s a fruit – and in September we had fun with squash.
But our big day came during the October 30 Haunted Market, which itself was making its return from covid. Our Shoeboxes of Doom challenged kids to reach inside and identify which witch body part– each one portrayed by produce – was hidden inside. All POP! participants received $3 vouchers to shop the farmers’ stands, thanks to sponsors Beaumont and Farmington & Farmington Hills Foundation for Youths & Families. For more on POP!, click here.
And speaking of the Haunted Market, that popular event made its own big comeback with decorations, costumed vendors and treats for kids.
Among new programs, several stood out:
The Walkabouts. Our new walking group, led by Market volunteers Sandy Boland, Polly Varhol and Suzanne Clinton, was a smashing success. Each Saturday the group gathered at the Market and then headed out for a mile or mile-and-a-half trek around town, visiting historic neighborhoods, cemeteries, parks, all the elements that make up a community. At each site walkers would learn about the area they were visiting, often from local experts. More than three dozen people took part over the summer, walking a combined 657.5 miles and earning incentives along the way. For more on the Walkabouts, click here.
Mini-Clinic on Senior Health. Beaumont Health introduced this informative program that was well-received and showed great potential. We hope to see it grow and become a regular part of future seasons.
Patriot Day. For the first time the Market took special note of 9/11 on the actual day of its 20th anniversary. Members of Farmington and Farmington Hills Public Safety Departments solemnly rang the market bell at the times each of the four jets crashed while vendors and shoppers observed a moment of silence. Also, the Walkabouts visited Farmington’s 9/11 Memorial next to City Hall and heard from several city leaders who helped establish it. For more on Patriot Day, click here.
Special visitors. Speaking of Public Safety, we also enjoyed having members of Farmington’s finest at several markets along with vehicles that children could sit in and maybe dream a little.
And we welcomed new and established downtown businesses as well as various community groups who set up booths to interact with shoppers. They included Dearborn Music, Beyond Juicery and Eatery, Kickstart Art Gallery, Hewitt’s Music, Tolonen Family Pet Store, GLP Financial, AmeriCorps, Oakland County assistance programs and Visions Unlimited, a post-secondary educational program serving young adults with developmental and physical disabilities.
Gajewski said to expect new faces at vendor booths next summer. “We keep the Market fresh by rotating vendors,” he said. “Maybe you won’t find your favorite every week, but you might find a new one.”
New vendors this year included Artisun Bath and Skin Care, Grandma Lucky’s Dressings, Vogue Booge Candles, Bee in Kitchen with Thai spices and recipes, Drake’s English Toffee, Let’s Pop kettle corn, Sherman's Hot Tennessee Crackers, Wholeheartedly handmade earrings and Taurus Trading Co., offering masks, snack bags and even garments made from recycled fabric.
It all amounted to another amazing season for the Market and another banner for the Sundquist Pavilion rafters as we were named the Best Farmers Market in Metro Detroit for the fifth straight year. Thanks to all who made it possible. We can’t wait till next season when we can do it all again!