Just like the cobbler’s kids whose shoes have holes, this farmers market manager rarely gets to shop the farm tables like everyone else. And let me tell you: It’s downright depressing to consider the prospect of going home empty-handed when I’m surrounded by beautiful corn and tomatoes and fruits and beans and zucchini and … sigh. However, thanks to the structure of this year’s market, and to the incredible job our seasoned volunteers do in managing things, I’m getting more opportunities this season.
So this past Saturday. Mary and I were standing in line waiting our turn at a busy farm table – a really busy farm table. “Let’s scoot over to this other stand – there’s no wait!” I told her. And so we did, and we found more than no waiting. We found long beans and purple potatoes and other new things to try.
This is exactly what we’ve grown into this season. Having 15 or so farmers spread out over 40,000 square feet of open air assures you can pretty much find what you want when you want it. Early on in this pandemic, I was afraid our wonderful market would be reduced to an open-air grocery store. Nope. Every stand you go to is staffed with workers who serve only you with produce grown so close to Farmington that its nutritional value and taste barely drop a lick. That’s something grocery stores just can’t match. And that explains why our attendance has been scaling up and off the charts. Last Saturday we counted in 4,488 visitors. And to think there was a time earlier in the season where I thought I might have to tell our farmers to stay home.
A silver lining in a pandemic
Coming into this season before the pandemic hit, my plan was to add new farmers, which is a very big deal for farmers markets. It’s more space to rent, more internal competition to take on, more customers to handle. But we were in the right place at the right time to try it.
Then the pandemic hit, and we opened on May 16th to 556 customers, 85% below last year’s weekly average. Of course it was outside factors that caused such shrinkage – “risk mitigating” directives due to the coronavirus as well as restrictions limiting our physical space. But the bottom line was clear to me: We were looking at financial disaster. Now we had too many farmers and not nearly enough shoppers.
On the second market day, May 23, I brought together all our farmers, new and old, for a meeting. For lack of customers, state restrictions and distancing guidlelines, I chalked out life-changing alternatives that no one wanted to hear. We could rotate farmers, furlough farmers or lay out a strategy for growing less produce. The farmers were reluctant. This is their livelihood, and a rogue frost already had wiped out a lot of early-season planting. They pleaded for more time. I relented. The strain and the pain evident on the faces all around me were too much to consider. We agreed to allow some time in the vague hope that “somehow things might get better…”
And then something wonderful happened.
In early June, City Council passed a resolution that would close Market Street next to us in downtown Farmington as part of a larger plan to provide more outdoor space for seating, dining and walking. Instantly the market grew by 10,000 square feet.
Saturday after Saturday came and went with blue skies, sunshine and no rain. For lack of festivals, concerts, ballgames, fairs and parades, people became accustomed to “If it’s Saturday, it must be market day.” The farmers’ fields recovered, bringing abundance. Amidst the turmoil wrought from divisive choices that seem to pervade a national election year, one thing rang true: Good food unites all people.
From an overcast day in late May to the crisp clarity of September skies, a band of farmers held its ground in downtown Farmington. I am proud to ring the market bell on Saturday mornings to the lyric of “We’re here to keep you healthy with real food, from real farms.” Until next time, then and as always, here’s saying, “See you at the market…”
The Farmington Farmers Market is located at Grand River and Grove Street in downtown Farmington and is free and open to the public seasonally mid-May through October.
If you have any additional questions, comments or suggestions about the market feel free to email us at email@example.com or click here to find us on Facebook at Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market. Please Like Us on Facebook so we can keep you updated on "Saturday life in a Michigan small town!"