For those of us that don’t live in ever-temperate climates, summer approaches and with it, the wonder of farmers’ markets and produce stands. In the mitten, I am lucky to be surrounded by such places in summer and fall – the season is still young, however, and some of the nearer markets aren’t open yet. The bad news is that a small journey is required to procure the best of local produce and foodstuffs; the good news is that it is an excuse to revel in the glory of Detroit’s Eastern Market.
I’ve spoken with a few metro-Detroiters recently who have never been to Eastern Market, and I was aghast. If you’re not from the Detroit-area, other than sports news, the odds are much of what you hear is not good – from deplorable politicians and public servants, to astonishing financial mismanagement, blight, crime, and economic floundering – the headlines that Detroit has garnered in recent years have not frequently been positive. Unfortunately, I can’t say these things aren’t true, but they are also one small part of a very complicated picture. Despite its many faults and failings, Detroit is a historically-rich city, with much to offer for those who are willing to look.
From the Detroit Institute of Arts to historic architecture, jazz clubs, and varied cuisine – the beat of Motown is far from dead. She isn’t the same city she was a hundred or so years ago, but she’s stronger, wiser, spunkier. Eastern Market is one of the places where Detroit shines (and has, since 1891!). Consisting of multiple brick “sheds” to shelter the vendors, and rows of vendors between and outside the sheds, Eastern Market is a place where farmers and artisans from around the state come to sell their flowers, produce, spices, baked goods, honey, eggs, and other goods.
At Eastern Market you can find great deals on produce and plants – organic and not – you can get free-range eggs, organic milk, raw honey, gluten-free baked goods, hand-blended teas, hand-mixed spices, homemade jams and breads, seedlings of all kinds, and an amazing assortment of flowers. I went this past weekend for the first time this year – it was a bit chilly, but there is something magical about the market. I love ogling the produce, smelling the spices, sampling the foods, getting ideas for recipes, meeting the people that grew and made my food.
If you live in the Detroit area, and especially if you’ve never been, get your bum down to Eastern Market (it’s open on Saturdays) and revel. Now. But even if you don’t live in the Detroit area, you can still benefit from the indie goodness of the market experience. If you don’t already frequent your local farmers’ markets, now is the season. Go online and see where there are markets near you (God bless Google) – I’ve found two markets that I didn’t know about that are within 15 minutes of my house.
There are many benefits to market-going, in addition to the old-fashioned experience of “going to market” to fetch the makings for dinner. Farmers’ markets and produce stands are indie at its finest. Going to the market allows you to get your food from local farmers – which supports your local economy, encourages small businesses (farmers), and reduces your carbon footprint (no big trucks or trains to get your food to your house). There are also health benefits – eating food that is indigenous to your area and season helps your body get the minerals and nutrients it needs to thrive. In addition, farmers’ markets often tend toward organic (nice and toxic-chemical-free), hormone free, MSG-free, whole foods. Farmers’ markets are also high in the warm-fuzzy factor – there is something about saying hi to the person that plucked your carrots or blended your tea; there is something about knowing exactly where your food came from, and who prepared it.
If you’ve never gone to a farmers’ market, don’t be intimidated – I’ve prepared a few tips to help you maximize your experience
- Use Google to locate farmers’ markets near you – be sure to check the days/times they are open. These are not grocery stores – many markets are only open 1 or 2 days of the weekends.
- Plan the week’s menu ahead of time. Sit down to your Pinterest boards and cookbooks, and plan out your meals for the week. In addition to reducing stress, this will minimize trips to the store, and help you maximize your trip to the market. It’s so sad to watch produce go bad because you don’t know what to do with it (I know because I am notorious for this), or miss trying a new something because you don’t know how to prepare it. Make up a menu and prepare a shopping list so you make sure to grab all you need. (Mayi Carles at HeartMadeBlog has two super cute weekly menus/shopping lists available to download for free – here and here )
- Bring a wagon. You will need more space than you think, especially if you’re looking for flowers or plants/herbs to grow yourself – and it’s super annoying to watch your arm turn purple because you’re too cool to bring a wagon. I’ve also seen people bring pushcart things that you’d see in a retail storeroom. Some markets (Eastern Market included) offer cart rentals – but you will want to check this out ahead of time.
- Small bills. All jokes aside ( ) , you will make everyone’s life easier if you bring small bills – $1, $5, and $10 being the most useful. It’s annoying when people try and buy produce (which is often sold in increments of $1, $2, or $5) with a $20 or $50 bill. This will also make things go more quickly, and the vendors/farmers are usually very grateful.
- Go early. To be honest, this is my least favorite part of the market experience, but it is (at least for Eastern Market) essential. When I go to Eastern Market, we usually arrive between 6 and 6:30 (I know, it sounds ridiculous), but this means dibs on everything – from parking to produce, and minimal crowding. When I left the market this weekend (around 10:30 or 11 am) and headed north on I-75, traffic was backed up on the expressway for about a mile just to get off at Mack to get to the market…Going early lets you park close, move freely through the market, and get first choice of all the produce. As you shop, straggling vendors may still be setting up, so there will be plenty to keep you busy. This also allows you to grab breakfast at a local (indie) restaurant if you’re so inclined. If, like me, the thought of doing anything this early literally makes your bones hurt, bring a cup of coffee or tea.
- Take your time and enjoy it. It’s easy to be stressed or annoyed, especially if you are up early, weaving through crowds, trying not to forget anything. But farmers’ markets are a wonderful, sensual experience – so take it in. Use all of your senses, take your time, take a few pictures with your phone, talk to the vendors and farmers, make friends. What a beautiful way to start or end your week!
I just got all of my herbs potted (which, I confess, is my favorite part of marketing – I’m an herb/spice-aholic) and can’t wait for my other local markets to open in coming weeks.
I’d love to hear about your farmers’ market experiences, or your favorite part of marketing! Happy smelling, and touching, and shopping, and eating