Last Thursday was hot and humid with a scattering of clouds. Perfect weather to ripen tomatoes, squash, and eggplants - perfect weather to visit the Westside Farmers Market. I was not the only one who thought so, for the first time in our market’s five year history we counted over 1000 people at the market. In honor of breaking the four digit hurdle, here is a summary of the new doings at the market since our strong start to the season.
The Westside Farmers Market continues to expand our acceptance of supplemental nutrition programs. Bridge Cards (formerly Food Stamps) are administered through the USDA and we have accepted over $500 so far this season. Two weeks ago, we became eligible to accept Project FRESH coupons.
Project FRESH Coupons are administered through the Michigan Department of Community Health as part of their WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program and Senior Project FRESH program. Project FRESH Coupons enable the holder of the coupon book to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from participating farmers. The coupon book holds 10 pages of $2/each. When I received my training by the State to accept the coupons one of the other students was curious why the amount given, $20, has not increased in value since the program began in 1986. To which, the very nice woman replied, “State budget.â€
As we maximize our space within the boundaries set for the market in our zoning permit we have had welcomed new vendors to the market. Spice Merchants from Saugatuck, My Kitchen Gourmet from Pinckney, Dick’s Pretty Good Garlic from Ann Arbor, Farrell Fruit from Ann Arbor, and Stone Hearth Breads and Bakery from Brooklyn, MI. In addition to the former collection of bakers, farmers, and jam makers — we have two new very unique vendors.
The Westside Farmers Market is a producer only market — every vendor at the market is required to grow, bake, cook, sculpt, or somehow create whatever it is they are selling. Therefore you would not expect, in Michigan, to see a shrimp farmer and a chocolate maker at a producer only market — yet there they are. I wrote extensively about the business of shrimp farming and Russ Allen’s Shrimp Farm Market in Okemos in the Spring. Angela Smith posted a full history of Mindo Chocolate in April. You can now meet both businesses every Thursday until the end of September at the Westside Farmers Market.
Last Thursday, Alicia Meza-Wilson, daughter of Barbara Wilson - owner of Mindo Chocolate, describes to me what is involved in “bean to barâ€ processing of the cacao beans that arrive to their kitchen in Dexter from Mindo, Ecuador (where the beans are grown and fermented). According to Alicia, the business started 8 months ago when her mother wanted to bake brownies in Ecuador — one never knows where inspiration will come from to start such an adventurous business.
You can continue to follow our vendors at the Westside Farmers Market and other markets on Real Time Farms. Real Time Farms continues to expand and streamline their website, making it easier to add pictures for contributors and creating a more dynamic experience when looking for markets. For example, they now have a slideshow of your market that you can embed anywhere.
Instead of asking markets to add every booth and tag every item, Real Time Farms has started an add 5 campaign, with the goal of adding every farmers market in the country to their website with 5 photos of the market - highlighting a cross section of what is available and exciting in the market. (Check out the captivating video that launches this campaign). Anyone with a camera on their smart phone can add pictures and information to the website, Real Time Farms is truly created by and for the people.
There is nothing better to me than a full meal grown by my local farmers. Starting perhaps with a cool cucumber soup, topped with dill (from Cassidy Farm in Chelsea). Followed by fresh corn , with ripe tomato and basil salad (from Pregitzer Farm Market), and lamp chops hot off the grill (from Ernst Farm). And for dessert, perfectly sweet watermelon (from Ruhligs Produce), with a seed spitting contest into the blooming hostas.
August in Ann Arbor — I don’t want to be anywhere else.