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Want to help your kids think outside the "big box" grocery stores? Start with the "sheds" – as in the open-air outposts at Detroit's historic Eastern Market.
Going back to 1891, before heavily processed foods dominated shelves like they do now, this six-block public market has given urban families access to fresh, local produce. To this day, it's a key place to learn about and appreciate where food comes from.
"Kids don't always make the connection that somebody grew this and it came from the ground," says La'Leatha Spillers, director of marketing and communications for Eastern Market Corporation. "Helping kids make that connection back to nature – as well as just educating them about the field of farming and the science behind it – is very important."
And the market is a prime place for families to shop and learn together.
Every Saturday, all year round, find up to 125 vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetables, organic meats and baked goods to specialty items like homemade jams, cheeses, honey, tea, organic and/or grass-fed meat, jewelry, crafts and fresh-cut flowers. Harvests hail from Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.
Plus, another 140 or so independent retailers, wholesalers and restaurants dot this vibrant commercial district.
Opportunities for kids
"There's always a way to incorporate some kind of educational aspect," says Spillers. "If (kids are) of the age where they can start to read, parents could say, 'Help mommy or daddy find what's on the list; find five apples, or find me a five-pound bag of flour.'" It's also an opportunity to teach younger children simple math, like asking them to add up the change to pay each vendor, she says.
For older kids, Eastern Market offers several programs that teach tips on eating healthy, buying locally – and even how to grow and sell their own food.
In the fall, for example, try the Meet Up and Eat Up program, an ongoing event that teaches good food and lifestyle choices. It's hosted by the market, along with the Detroit Lions, Fair Food Network and Detroit Public Schools.
"The Lions' chef prepares a healthy nutritious lunch for them, a Detroit Lion alumni or current player talks to the kids about staying physically fit and active, and then we actually take them out into the market and teach them how to shop for fresh, healthy, local food," says Spillers. "Then they all get to go home with some of this food. And the goal is that they pass this on to their families." It generally runs every week in September and October at the Tuesday market.
Learning in the market (and beyond)
Some vendors are even teaming up with groups like Keep Growing Detroit (313-757-2635), a nonprofit, to provide local, nutritious food outside the market, as well.
"We are working with a network of about 1,400 gardens at this point, who are now growing food in places all over the city," says KGD co-director Ashley Atkinson. Its Youth Growing Detroit program even helps kids ages 11-18 grow their own grub and sell their harvest at Eastern Market and other area markets.
This also helps build leadership skills, Atkinson adds. So, for example, when you visit the group's stand at Eastern Market, "Many times, the person you interact with is a young person, and it's a young person making the sale."
Benefits of growing locally extend far beyond the food itself – from bringing people together to building community bonds. "These intergenerational relationships are going to be so key for the city moving forward," says Atkinson.
Summer fun events
- Sunday Street Market: During the summer months, this market runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sundays only (early June-late September). Shed 2 stocks local products like jewelry, crafts, vintage clothing, toys and antiques; there's entertainment at Shed 3. Food trucks too.
- Tuesday Markets: Another summer treat, this is 9 a.m.-3 p.m. mid-June through late October – with an additional Thanksgiving Market. These have half the vendors of Saturdays, but still lots to pick from – a perfect low-key alternative to bustling Saturdays.
- Third Thursday Markets: Happen 5-9 p.m. June-September. These relaxed, fun, family-friendly events feature food and artisan vendors and activities for kids and families by Playworks Detroit – plus food trucks.
- World Groove: This one-day late-June fest returns celebrates the culture of the Caribbean with authentic music, cuisine, festivities, a parade and performances. Check ahead for times and costs (typically about 2-10 p.m. and $10/person or $25/family).
Meat markets to explore
Here's a taste of three deli/butcher shops that are fun to check out.
- Gratiot Central Market: In the market district since 1915, GCM is a great place to find unusual meats, such as goat, homemade sausages, rabbit, chitterlings and tripe – plus local baked goods, barbeque supplies and a quick bite to eat. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday. 1429 Gratiot Ave. 313-259-4486.
- Wigley's Meats & Produce: This family-owned staple is known for its incredible corned beef. Like GCM (which it also sells out of), Wigley's has a full-service deli and sausage counter where you can buy local meats, cut fresh daily. 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 3405 Russell St. 313-833-3030.
- Adam's Meats: This halal market is best known for its wide selection of flavorful Middle Eastern spiced meats and marinades. 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday. 2506 Market St. 313-259-4700.
Heading off to the market? Take these few tips along to make the most of your family outing.
- Be eco-minded: Bring reusable grocery bags for your purchases to highlight the lesson of helping the environment.
- Have a bite: Expand budding palettes at popular eateries here, like Russell St. Deli, Supino Pizzeria, Farmer's Restaurant, Roma Cafe and Vivio's Food & Spirits.
- Take a tour: The Come Hungry, Leave Happy tour, offered by Feet on Street Tours/Delish Detroit, is a great way to get kids behind the scenes.
- Branch out: It's all within walking distance of Ford Field and Comerica Park, or you can bike from here to the Detroit RiverWalk, Dequindre Cut and neighborhoods from downtown to Midtown to Corktown.
- Use the bridge: Have a Bridge Card? Use it to get tokens, accepted by approved shed vendors. Visit Shed 5 or the market’s welcome center (1445 Adelaide St.). Double Up Food Bucks also begin on June 1.