GRAND RAPIDS, Mi. — Michigan farmers grow more than 300 different crops. Our state has the second most diverse agriculture industry behind California, contributing more than $101 billion into our economy every year.
One of the ways we access all this amazing produce - the farmers market! And this year, a staple in the community, the Fulton Street Farmers Market celebrates 100 years of bringing people together - as they prepare to open for the season May 7.
Opening day at the Fulton Street Farmers Market is a big deal, but it's even more significant this year, celebrating 100 years of serving the community. Executive Director Dana Eardley says, "'It's an incredibly big deal. We've been thinking about this and ruminating on it for years and thinking about how we can really capture what has happened in this space." So much has happened, and so much has changed. "To hear some of our farmers who have been here you know 50-60 years people would just pull up their trucks and set up a tent and just sell right then and there. Back then there were animals they had live animals for sale you know it was just very different.”
Mike Wells grew up at the market with his family farm, Wells Orchards, he says the evolution is all for the better. "This used to be people came and bought their stuff and left. Now it's become a very much community-oriented and almost activity to go to the market I know a lot of people come just to walk up and down just to spend time at the market.” Eardley says it’s certainly considered a gathering place. "This is such a pivotal place for the community, because it's a space where people can come together across any differences you know any backgrounds people are coming together for the same thing to eat good food and to celebrate you know our all the wonderful agricultural products that are brought to us in west Michigan.”
Another change over the years is the items you will find here, as there are fewer and fewer family farms. Eardley says, "We're seeing farmers retire and we're not seeing a lot of the Mike Wells of the world. We are not seeing a lot of people who are picking up where their families left off, which is opening up an opportunity for different types of vendors, different types of people - which is something that we take great joy in. We're seeing now our vendor makeup is more representative of the whole community, but still farmers will always be the heart and soul of the farmers market for sure."
It's an environment Mike loves, being accessible to his customers. He always welcomes questions and conversations. "100 years ago, there were 100 different farms, now there's not that and it makes it a little more special to say hey, I know a farmer I’m able to talk to a farmer and it keeps us a little more connected. It's just a nice way to get a connection with people but still provide good quality fruit and product to people too."
And those quality fruits and vegetables are accessible to all. The farmers market operates as a non-profit and part of its mission is to advocate for food access and be a catalyst for an equitable and resilient food system in West Michigan. Food assistance programming is a huge part of what they do. Four of their core programs are Snap, Double Up, WIC and Senior Project Fresh. And new this year, a gleaning program. Eardley says, “We're going to recover food at the end of the market day, then we're going to distribute that in the Heartside neighborhood. And so it’s just going to be the kind of that next step in growing our food access programming and really trying to get all of this great food out to the community.” The Fulton Street Farmers Market kicks off its centennial main market season on May 7 - from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. There are nearly 120 stalls at the market that will be bursting with fresh produce and goods come summertime. If you're interested in learning more about how the food assistance programs work through the market, and to see a list of current vendors, you can head to their website, https://www.fultonstreetmarket.org/.