Food has the power to bring neighbors together, build businesses and energize communities. Michigan has seen this in action many times over. Community markets, such as Eastern Market in Detroit and Allen Market Place in Lansing, are more than just food markets, serving hubs of nutrition and camaraderie.
Dan Carmody, president of Detroit Eastern Market Corporation sees the markets as an opportunity to spend time with neighbors and enjoy healthy food. “Food is one of those things that connects us,” he says.
Eastern Market was established in Detriot in the 1800s to provide nourishing food to the community, and has adapted over time to meet the community’s changing needs.
Fun and Healthy
Eastern Market focuses on creating a happier, healthier and wealthier Detroit, Carmody says.
Whether people are biting into a locally grown apple, tailgating in the market parking lot before a Detroit Lions game or discovering a new favorite vegetable, the market provides an opportunity to connect. In addition to providing access to healthy food, Carmody says Eastern Market has an impact on visitors’ emotional health.
“Happy people have less stress, and visiting the farmers market makes people happy,” he says.
In Lansing, Allen Market Place is the hub for fresh foods and fun. The facility opened in 2013 and houses the Allen Farmers Market in the winter and other programs run by Allen Neighborhood Center. The market season was extended in response to community needs.
“The farmers market is a real resource for this neighborhood,” says Joan Nelson, executive director of Allen Neighborhood Center. “People expressed sadness when it went away in October, so we have kept it going. The neighborhood now has access to healthy food year round.”
Cooking Up Goodness
One of the fastest-growing aspects of Allen Market Place is the incubator kitchens. Two kitchens are available for cooking classes, youth groups, and entry- level food entrepreneurs.
Since the incubator kitchens started in 2014, more than 30 entrepreneurs have rented them to start their own businesses. Some of the business owners have since moved into their own stores or have become chefs in restaurants.
“I love the way our food programs are so integrated,” Nelson says. “Farmers and food producers all have opportunities to meet and collaborate.”
Experts are also on hand to help with business plans, marketing and product packaging. The community benefits from local businesses’ success with potential employment opportunities and economic boosts.
Business owners and the community also benefit from Michigan’s Cottage Food legislation, which allows small producers (those that sell less than $25,000) to make food from their homes.
“The Cottage Food law makes it easier for new food-based businesses preparing non- potentially hazardous foods to get started and test new products,” says Amanda Shreve, interim executive director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association. “This helps support entrepreneurship and expands the offerings available at farmers markets.”
Pop-Pop’s Gourmet Popcorn, which produces air-popped popcorn in a variety of tasty flavors, benefitted from the Cottage Food law in its infancy. When the business grew too big to continue producing in their home, they moved to a store in Midland.
Having a strong farmers market is an asset to a community, Montri says. “Farmers markets foster a sense of community among their customers and support emotional health by creating a space where people come together for laughter, fellowship, food and fun.”