Peek into any Michigan farmers market and you’ll see a beehive of activity. As local farmers set up displays of farm-fresh produce and local vendors unpack small-batch jams, baked goods, honey and more, customers buzz around in search of the freshest ingredients to create the most nutritious meals for their children, families and friends.
But that’s not all you’ll see, says Hailey Lamb, Communications Manager for the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), a statewide member-based nonprofit that supports farmers markets to create a thriving marketplace for local food and farm products.
At any of the over 250 Michigan farmers markets, Lamb says you’ll see a thriving marketplace where relationships and community grow. This is one way your local Michigan farmers market differs from your conventional grocery store — even those that carry Michigan produce.
“While we love any avenue that gets fresh Michigan fruits and vegetables into people’s hands, the main difference at a farmers market is that farmers are selling items they produced themselves,” Lamb explains, adding that when you shop at a farmers market, you can learn where your food really comes from. You can learn how and why it was grown and when it was picked or pulled from the ground.
And that’s exactly how MIFMA defines a farmers market, as a regularly occurring assembly of farmers and their representatives who sell products they produce themselves directly to members of the community. MIFMA believes in integrity and quality, community and belonging, and diversity and unity. In metro Detroit alone, there are dozens of farmers markets to visit and enjoy.
You can join the celebration during National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 7-13, 2022. Your local farmers market is certain to have something special planned — like live music, special prizes, cooking demos, fun for kids, food trucks and more — so check out MIFMA’s Find a Farmers Market tool and plan to participate.
In the meantime, read on for some top reasons to shop at your local Michigan farmers market.
Contribute to your local and state economy
Southeast Michigan’s economy isn’t just about the automotive industry. “According to our friends at the Michigan Ag Council, Michigan agriculture contributes $104 billion to the state’s economy and Michigan farmers and producers employ almost one-quarter of Michigan’s workforce,” Lamb says.
But there’s more. Every dollar you spend at a local business like a Michigan farmers market returns three times more dollars directly into the community, compared to that dollar being spent at a big chain grocery store. “You make a difference to your community just by buying what you want to purchase anyway,” she says.
Here’s a surprising fact: In the nation, Michigan is second only to California in agricultural diversity. “Michigan is a special place,” Lamb says. Michigan leads the nation in asparagus production because this early nutritious vegetable is “happy to grow in the sandy soil in Michigan,” she adds. Michigan is also No.1 in production of dried black and red beans.
Promote food accessibility
Many Michigan farmers markets accept food assistance benefits, making them smart places to shop when you’re on a budget. For eligible products, farmers markets accept SNAP/EBT Bridge Cards, WIC Project FRESH and Senior Market FRESH and even Double Up Food Bucks, the program that matches every EBT/Bridge Card dollar spent so families can get double the fresh fruits and vegetables. When spent on peak season fresh fruits and vegetables, “these are some of the best values you can find, and certainly the best food, too! It’s a great opportunity for children and families,” Lamb says.
Support the environment
“Conventional food distribution uses at least four times as much fuel to move produce compared to a local farmers market,” Lamb says. “This is more important now than ever with gas prices as high as they are.” Because the produce is grown locally, there’s a shorter supply chain, which means significantly fewer steps between produce harvest and your dinner plate. “Especially during unpredictable times, there are fewer things that can go wrong,” she says.
Enjoy the freshest food
“At your local farmers market, what you see for sale and bring home is picked when it’s perfectly ripe, sometimes even that day. Your corn and lettuce were plucked the day before, if not that morning,” Lamb says. Those same items at your big-chain supermarket were likely picked too early and forced to ripen during transport using gases and other techniques, she says. “Eating a grocery store strawberry and a farmers market strawberry are two totally different experiences.”
Contribute to the quality of life in your community
Become a regular farmers market patron and you will get to know the people who grow your food and your neighbors, too. “You can ask questions you can’t ask elsewhere, like what is the best type of vegetable for a new recipe you have planned or why were strawberries for sale last week and now there are raspberries instead? Farmers and vendors are experts on their products and are excited to talk about what’s in season and why. These interactions are important for relationships within the community and across the state,” Lamb says.
Each Michigan farmers market is unique
Here, you can discover fruits and vegetables you didn’t know existed, like pawpaws and fiddlehead ferns. You can discover hot foods from a variety of cultures and you can access fresh Michigan eggs and pantry staples. Some farmers markets sell fresh meat. “A few years ago, I visited the Caledonia Farmers Market and they had local bison meat for sale! I had never seen that before,” she says.
In addition to great products, many farmers markets have programming specifically for children. “At some markets, kids can learn why vegetables are good for you. At others, classes for teens teach real-world skills like safe food handling and food preservation techniques,” she adds.
Find your local Michigan farmers market using MIFMA’s Find a Farmers Market tool. Visit mifma.org. And reach out directly to your local farmers market to find out how it’s celebrating National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 7-13, 2022.