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"Food, farms, and community": The Fulton Street Farmers Market in its 95th year

Plants, produce and smiles greet the community at the Fulton St. Farmers Market.







This year, the farmers market is celebrating its 95th year in operation with a new logo that reads “95 years of food, farming and community.” Markets like Fulton Street often help incubate local trade, commerce, and businesses, provide healthy alternatives to most modern food, and in many cases just provide the daily warmth of a smile and a handshake with each purchase.
If community is a place where strangers meet and trade recipes, food, and culture, then the Fulton Street Farmers Market is a heartbeat in Grand Rapids that is still pumping strong. This year, the farmers market is celebrating its 95th year in operation with a new logo that reads “95 years of food, farming and community.” Markets like Fulton Street often help incubate local trade, commerce, and businesses, provide healthy alternatives to most modern food, and in many cases just provide the daily warmth of a smile and a handshake with each purchase.

This is nothing new, however. The market was born in 1922 out of a grassroots citizen campaign to make farm-fresh goods available to the public. That heritage of community involvement is palpable even now when vendor Alan Jones of Greenrock Farms out of Conklin says, "the best office I've ever had is right here," gesturing to a pile of his fresh greens. His enthusiasm is apparent, contagious even. "The first farmer's market of the year is like the first day of school." When asked about his favorite part about the market, he insists that it is how "your customers start, as customers, and end up as friends."
At the farmers market, simply buying produce is salvaged from the transactional doldrums of the grocery store. Instead of a cashier, you are met with the faces that have produced the food, taken the care and effort of presenting it, and are genuinely enthusiastic to see their effort and labor benefit the customer. “The best part of the farmers market,” says Elizabeth Blanford, market staff member, “is seeing all of our hard work appreciated.”

Vendors also partner with other growers to help each other. Groundswell Community Farm has partnered with West Michigan Grower’s Group in several projects around their farm. “We love the Fulton street market. It is very well run and very supportive of the farmers that participate,” says Katie Brandt, part-owner of Groundswell. “The nice thing about the market is they have such a wide diversity of local products, meats, dairy products, [and] even baked goods.”

In addition to community partnerships, there are many advantages to buying local. These include buying produce in season, when it is at its most flavorful and nutritious, and learning from the vendors about how the produce has been grown and what special care has been taken with it. Local farmers can also offer information about whether or not the food is organic, or what type of soil it was farmed in. All of this brings together an experience that one is not simply purchasing produce, but receiving a meal from the community, and in sharing that transaction allows that vendor to continue on producing the wholesome, local sustenance that in, many vendor’s cases, has been the tradition for decades.

Case Visser, third generation of Visser Farms, is familiar with traditions at the market. His family has offered a wide variety of produce at the market since the 1940s and Case spent his own childhood between their Jenison farm and the Fulton Street Market. “I grew up playing here,” he says. “The market still has a family-friendly atmosphere.”

The market underwent a massive renovation in 2012-2013. While growing pains are inevitable for any organization, Kate Brandt of Groundswell Farms says, “Going through the transition between not having such infrastructure to having more permanent facilities can be difficult, [but] they managed the transition really well.” 

After 95 years, the market still looks to the future. Rori Weston, the new market manager, is taking over from Melissa Harrington, whose nine-year tenure oversaw its recent expansion. “We want to talk with patrons, to figure out why they love the market,” says Weston. “We are also consistently improving sustainable initiatives and finding new ways to celebrate the market.” The market is also looking to expand its footprint in the community by making the 2000-square foot indoor area available to public events as well.

Despite nearly a century of operation, the Fulton Street Farmers Market still gets the recipe right for engaging the public. As their new motto says: “95 years of food, farming, and community,” have been a testament to the sustainability and timelessness of open-air markets in today’s world.

Helpful information about the market:
If you are interested in helping celebrate the Fulton Street Farmers Market in its 95th year, or simply picking up some fresh fruit and veggies, it is open 8am-3pm every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Every Sunday the market becomes an artisan market where arts and crafts are available as well.

The market is bringing its old-fashioned sense of community into the new era of social media at Facebook.com/fultonstmarket.

Payment options: all vendors at the market accept Double Up Food Bucks, SNAP, and WIC. Some vendors accept credit/debit cards with their own mobile card readers. The market also sells $5 tokens, which are usable as cash with all market vendors.

Parking and transit: the market offers limited parking, and on Saturdays the Salvation Army across Fuller Ave offers its parking lot to market customers as well. For those inclined to use public transit services, Fulton Street Farmers Market is serviced by Route 14 on the Rapid, and the Farmers Market is itself a stop on this route.

Andrew Hart, the author of this article, spends his time skipping through literary dimensions and perfecting his homemade curry. Phobic of social media, you can email him here at ajhart4550@gmail.com.

Photography by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.
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