It started the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 3, as boxes of non-perishable food – cereal, pasta, soup – were brought together at the Farmington Farmers Market.
They were soon joined by bags of bread, cookies and other baked goods. Then the fresh produce began to arrive – big boxes and bags of carrots, green beans, red apples, celery, greens, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, rhubarb, kale, squash, etc., etc.
The end result was a small mountain of nutritious food donated by the market’s farmers and vendors to C.A.R.E.S. (Community. Action. Resources. Empowerment. Services.) of Farmington Hills. The agency, known for its work with area families who are in need of different kinds of assistance, would stock its pantry with the bounty and offer it to hundreds of families over the next few days.
“That was amazing,” said Todd Lipa, C.A.R.E.S. executive director who also serves as Director of Youth and Family Services for the City of Farmington Hills who was at Riley Park to witness the generosity.
Pre-pandemic, the farmers market would have spent its harvest moon market promoting Farmington’s popular Harvest Moon Celebration, a community party that would take over the park and pavilion that evening. But like so much else, the coronavirus canceled that celebration. Still, market manager Walt Gajewski didn’t want to ignore the harvest moon theme.
“So we decided to take a more traditional approach of honoring the fall harvest by sharing the bounty,” he said. “Our shoppers have been very generous this year despite the challenges of the coronavirus, and this allowed our farmers and vendors to give back to the community.”
C.A.R.E.S. began a relationship with the market last year when the Goetz Family Farm and Greenhouses agreed to donate whatever they had left at the end of market day.
“Today we noticed it was all kinds of different farmers and smaller vendors who packaged up a box or bag of food,” Lipa said.
He added that he knew the haul would be big. He just didn’t know how big. Luckily, he had planned ahead, sending his agency’s 12-foot box truck, a donation by Paulson’s Audio & Video of Farmington Hills, to the scene. And a half-dozen volunteers, including pantry director Tim Cobb, were on hand to make quick work of the packing.
“They filled up the truck,” Lipa said. “Now we’ll spend Sunday and Monday packaging it all for our guests when they arrive Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Market assistant Alexander Steward, who helped to co-ordinate the project, was impressed at the farmers’ and vendors’ participation.
“Some couldn’t give a lot because their product is at a higher cost but still wanted to contribute something,” he said. “And it was cool to see artisans bring canned goods and more because they don’t make food products they can contribute.”
Donations came from these farmers: Goetz, Gass Centennial Farm, Xiong's Fresh Asian Produce, Beaverland, Farm & Forest, Forest Treats, Fusilier Family Farms and Greenhouses, Kapnick Orchards, R & B Miller Farms, Odie’s Flowers, Lake Divide Farm and Great Lakes Permadynamics.
Also donating were these vendors: Rose Best, Wright by Design Card Co., U.P. Pasties, Radical Plants, Babcia’s Boy, Chocolate Chipped Bakery, Baking Legends, Golden Wheat (Cannelle) Bakery, Mamma Rita’s Bakery, Chene Modern Bakery, People’s Pierogi, Teffola (Tenera Grains), Triple B Honey, Detroit Gourmet Nut Co., Spice Grrrl and Old World Olive Oil.
Lipa expects several hundred families to benefit from the market’s generosity. Again, the coronavirus has hampered distribution, but he expects to see upward of 250 families enjoying the harvest bounty.
He also points out that C.A.R.E.S. does a lot more than gather and distribute food.
“We’re always looking at what else we can do for people who’ve gone through struggles” he said.
C.A.R.E.S. is located in the former Servant Church of St. Alexander on Shiawassee east of Middlebelt in Farmington Hills. For information, call 248-474-8231.
Thank you, shoppers
It was a low-key celebration on Saturday, Sept. 26, but very meaningful to all of us at the farmers market. We honored the million-plus shoppers who have come to the market in its 27 years downtown.
We did that by handing out special millionth shopper pins and apples – a longtime symbol of the market and the nutritional food it offers. At around 10:20 a.m., the market bell rang to get everyone’s attention, and Mayor Sara Bowman said a few words acknowledging the million-shopper milestone. A group photo was taken, and then it was back to business on a beautiful fall day with farmer stands offering fresh, nutritional produce.
In a summer of no pandemic, the celebration would have been a little flashier, a little more prolonged. But among the many things we’ve learned this year is that sometimes it’s best to do business quickly and safely and move on. There will be more milestones to mark along the way.
What’s next? This Saturday, Oct. 3, is the Market of the Harvest Moon. Now, in years past, that meant we would share our space in the evening with the Harvest Moon Celebration, a favorite community get-together. But the coronavirus has canceled that party, like so many other civic events. Instead, we will celebrate the harvest as farmers have done forever – by making the most of fall’s bounty.
Then comes our final market ont Oct. 31 – Halloween! We won’t celebrate as we have in years past, but we’d love to see costumed shoppers, farmers and vendors roaming the pavilion. Just be sure to wear a cloth mask, not a plastic one. And no candy; sorry.
Get help with the challenge of going back to school
As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the topic of a safe return to school has evolved into a complicated issue. It has stirred up a lot of passionate debate among public health experts, educators, politicians, parents and students alike.
On this podcast from market sponsor Beaumont Hospital, experts share important information designed to guide you through the challenge. The podcast is hosted by Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont Health's medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology. His first guest is his brother, Ben Gilpin, who is principal at Warner Elementary in Spring Arbor. Also sharing information is Dr. Trini Mathew, a Beaumont Health infectious diseases expert.
Topics tackled in the podcast include:
How COVID might look different in kids
What you and the schools can do to provide a safe, healthy environment
What schools should do in the event of an outbreak
To hear the podcast, choose from these listening options:
We've pushed even further onto Market Street
Expanding the market onto the east side of Market Street, as we did two months ago, was such a great idea that we have now staked a claim to part of the west side.
The move originally was done to spread out our farmers and vendors so we'd have good social distancing space. It also meant we could add more sellers. The market uses a specific formula that tells us how many vendors and shoppers we can safely accommodate in our given footprint. So, in order to bring back more tents, we needed to expand that space.
The answer was Market Street, which became ours to use thanks to city officials. The move has been well-received by farmers, vendors and shoppers alike. It has allowed us to add more variety and bring back more familiar faces. In a sense, it has allowed the market and its shoppers to breathe more safely. In other words, it's a win for everyone.
A four-peat as best market in metro Detroit
We're No. 1 again!
It's official: For the fourth straight year, the Farmington Farmers Market has been voted the best farmers market in Metro Detroit! The news was announced July 24 on WDIV Channel 4, the sponsor of the Vote 4 the Best contest.
"It's great to win this title any year, but it's especially gratifying this year," said market manager Walt Gajewski. "We've worked really hard to keep our market safe during this pandemic so we can bring nutritious food to our shoppers."
Unlike other area markets, Farmington opened on schedule this spring after weeks of preparation that included setting up traffic flow, designating specific entrances and exits and offering handwashing stations. Masks were required of vendors and volunteers and strongly recommended for shoppers (they are now required). Tables were spaced in such a way as to maintain social distancing.
"We did our homework, and we've been diligent in maintaining healthy standards," Gajewski said. "The reward was immediate – after a slow opening day, we've seen our attendance numbers increase steadily. And that's been great for everybody – our farmers and vendors as well as our shoppers. Everyone involved gets the credit for this win."
A new 2020 market banner acknowledging the win is now on display in the market's home, the Walter E. Sundquist Pavilion in downtown Farmington, beginning Saturday. It hangs alonside three other Best of Detroit banners.
French Lady will be back this season ... we hope
As her many fans know all too well, the French Lady has not been at the market for several weeks. But she plans to be back sometime this market season.
After delighting shoppers with her meringues. quiches and other treats for the first few weeks, the French Lady, real name Claude Pellerin, has had trouble finding kitchen space in which to prepare her goodies.
“We are ‘playing by ear’ right now, and I can't tell when I'll be back in business,” she wrote in a recent email to market manager Walt Gajewski. “I'm sorry I can't give more positive and clear news.”
As of August 16, there was no update. "Administration in the States is like in France ... too slow! " she emailed Gajewski. But the manager does expect her back at the market yet this summer. “She is a big part of what we are all about,” he said, “simply good food found here!”
In her email, Ms. Pellerin added that she and her husband “miss the markets very much … for the people, for the connections we made those past two years, the community feeling, the friendships we both developed with fellow vendors or customers.
“I received so many phone calls and emails from my wonderful customers, it warms my heart! We are looking forward to being back.”
So are we.
Fresh coffee returns to the market
For those who like their java as they shop the market, we have good news: Once again we are offering freshly brewed coffee inside the pavilion on the west side.
We welcome Mugs Coffee and Grub to our roster. Owner Mel Hussin serves brews and baked goods at his new shop on the west side Orchard Lake Road, just north of Shiawassee, at the end of a small strip mall.
His timing in opening his shop was not the best -- just a few months after he and his wife, Sara, began doing business, the coronavirus shut them down. But the coffee place is open again, offering carry-out, online ordering and dining-in from a limited menu.
"We are a family-owned shop serving high-quality organic coffee," Mel said. "We're trying to do what we can to be earth and health conscious while offering vegan and dairy-free options so everyone can enjoy something at our coffee shop."
For now, Mugs will be offering just coffee and tea for now, although Mel said they will have some "bagel bombs" (stuffed bagels) from Evergreens Bakery in Oxford. "Usually we get baked goods from Avalon in Detroit, but they aren’t back to wholesaling items yet," he said.
You'll find Mugs Coffee and Grub in the southwest corner of the pavilion. Stop by and welcome them to the market. We're happy to have them.
Wear that mask
Wearing a face mask continues to be mandatory in order to enter the Farmers Market this Saturday and until further notice. If you don't have one, you can get a disposable one free of charge at either entrance.
The market has encouraged the wearing of masks since opening May 16. But the practice has become more urgent as the number of coronavirus cases has begun to grow.
The market has been directed by the city to be in accordance with the recent executive order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that requires all Michiganders to wear masks in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces or face a misdemeanor charge that comes with up to a $500 fine.
To obtain a free mask, just ask any volunteer; they're the folks wearing black aprons and name tags.