By Walt Gajewski
October 7, 2021
Some years back I wrote a column for the Observer called “The Road to Riga.” It was a backroads story of my inspection of the Goetz Greenhouse and Family Farm in Riga, a rural farm community tucked away off U.S.-23 southwest of Dundee, heading toward Monroe. If it’s not the best piece I’ve ever written, it’s the one I’m most fond of.
Last week I returned to Riga, to walk the land and inspect the farm once again. It’s the most rewarding if not downright fascinating part of my job, to confirm that what comes to market is grown and harvested on those farms.
Approaching the Goetz place in the way-too-early morning hours, I pulled off the road to watch a dewy mist on the wide-open fields burn off in the sun of a growing day. Opening my truck windows, I smelled an air that was thickly fresh and full of earth. As I eased into the drive, I focused on a sentry of greenhouses, barns and tractors scattered around. I passed an old farmhouse on my right, a chicken coop on my left. Cats sauntered past with an air of disinterest as I attached a pen and paper to my clipboard.
Farmer Steve Goetz met up with me as my boots hit the ground. Exchanging pleasantries, we quickly stepped into the fields, down the tractor pathways of a farm that dates back some 115 years. Steve himself is part of the fifth generation of this farming family.
As we walked and talked, I checked off all that is grown here and brought to market – garden herbs, root vegetables, peppers, beans, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbages, brussels sprouts, zucchini, squash, sweet corn, melons, onions, garlic and much more. I learned about crop rotation, soil regeneration, “growing in the weeds” and other natural practices the farm embraces, including the strict forbiddance of herbicides, which the family broke from 20-plus years ago.
Morning’s chill faded as the sun kept rising. I watched a flatbed roll into the fields, farmhands jumping off to start the harvest of what would come to market in Farmington. As Steve shagged a bean ready for picking, he said quietly, “I hope you know, Walt, that we pick our produce specifically for Farmington. Everything comes to Farmington.”
This Saturday marks our second Share the Harvest Day when our farmers, food artisans and crafters come together at market’s end to donate a truckload of fresh-picked produce to C.A.R.E.S. of Farmington Hills, which operates a community pantry providing food assistance to some 1,000 families a month.
On Saturday, C.A.R.E.S. director Todd Lipa will present a special plaque to the Goetz family, which has contributed unsold produce for years. “We really appreciate the contributions of the Goetz family over the years,” said Lipa. “Bringing farm-fresh produce to local families in need is a dream come true.
“We are blessed.”
The road to Riga stretches 68 miles from Farmington. Many of our farmers travel as much and farther. On Saturdays May through October, all roads lead to Farmington, where we can come together as neighbors, as caretakers of the community.
Until next time, then and as always, here’s saying, “See you at the Market.”
The market within the Market
By Walt Gajewski
August 25, 2021
I have been writing this column, “Fresh at the Market,” for 11 years. That’s as long as I have been manager of the farmers market. I would have to dig deep (and maybe still not find it) to come across a piece that tells of the “& Artisans” aspect of the Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market.
Let’s face it – and this I hold to be true: Without our farmers, and we have a whole lot of them, the market here would wither on the vine. I’ve seen it and I see it. To be the kind of market that we are, a destination market, you have to bring a wide selection of produce from all compass points as the weather is, well, the weather. If it’s raining north, it’s dry to the south. Somebody is picking somewhere!
That’s how we get our bounty – through lots of farmers, growers, producers and foragers. And I won’t stray from this way of presenting the market to the community. Access to locally grown, farm-fresh produce is so fundamental and abundantly essential to a successful farmers market.
A Market of Finds
The artisans of our market could be specialty food vendors, home and garden artisans, potters, photographers, wood turners or metal smiths. These vendors bring “finds” to the market. From Market Place Street to the bricks of Sundquist Pavilion or under its rafters, there is a market within a market.
One thing we do with our new volunteers is to ask them to go off and stroll the market. See what’s out there. Get a feel for the appeal, so to speak. As one volunteer newbie told me recently: “I was amazed at how much this market has to offer! Here it is 90 degrees in the shade, and I’m thinking about Christmas presents!”
Our artisans harken back to the old world, back when farming allowed people to settle in place. Handiwork was currency. The blacksmith came forward to trade his fire-forged gates, railings, furniture, farm tools and horseshoes for a winter’s worth of wheat. And so it goes – this is how a community was formed. This is how a community flourished. And it still happens today, at the Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market.
Next time you have to run out or log in to find a table gift or an expression of thanks, consider the artisans at the Farmers Market. Imagine the good feeling exchanged when someone reaches into a bag or unwraps a box as you say: “I hope you like it. I found it at the farmers market…”
Rain, rain, go away
By Walt Gajewski
June 30, 2021
Rain. I am abundantly confident that is a four-letter word to market managers everywhere. I shouldn’t complain, right? We enjoyed 26-straight rain-free market days last year – the entire season. But already this year we lost a chance at selling out our Strawberry Shortcake Day – a market “fun-raiser” – thanks to a late-morning soaker. Then, last weekend – well, it didn’t rain, but I didn’t sleep well as the greater metro area saw upwards of a half foot of “cloud fall.”
Rain is a game-changer when it comes to planning and preparing for market day. You have to factor in the possibility of high winds, which can be devastating, or, even worse, the dreaded twosome of thunder and lightning. Last weekend I could have erred on the side of caution and just canceled the market after Friday’s deluge and subsequent dire prediction. There were markets that did. But I can’t cancel on a snap like that without talking to our farmers (your farmers, too). Experience has shown that farmers will harvest in the rain. At least ours do. And they will come to market in the rain.
So early last Saturday morning, after tossing and turning all night listening to the pat-a-pat of a steady rain, I shuffled off to find my rain gear and make my way downtown. Lo and behold, as morning broke at Riley Park, the skies were dry. And they stayed that way all day. Upwards of 3,000 people came to market to support the farmers, who rewarded them with more variety in produce than I have seen all year. Turns out that farmers picking in the rain is a good omen of things to come!
In fact, there’s a great abundance beginning to flow from the farms. We may see the last of this year’s strawberries but, oh, the cherries and raspberries! Last Saturday I bought the most beautiful and deliciously sweet beets from Farm & Forest. From the tables of Bill Gass, I took home a nice box of just-picked baby patty pan squash. Try that in a foil pack on the grill with onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. So much to enjoy!
Looking ahead: Summer in Farmington spells FOUNDERS FESTIVAL, which this year runs Thursday, July 15, through Saturday, July 17. To accommodate all the doings, the Farmers Market will relocate to the Farmington High School parking lot for one day only, July 17. I expect we’ll even have sweet corn by then!
As I finish up here on my front porch while it’s pouring rain, I have to make ready for a big market this holiday weekend. So until next time, then and as always, here’s saying, “See you at the market!”
Finally, we are really open
By Walt Gajewski
May 12, 2021
“The Farmers Market is open!” I remember standing on the south bricks of the Sundquist Pavilion on Opening Day, May 8, shouting out those words as the market bell rang. But it didn’t seem open. Covid restrictions were very much in place from last summer – hurricane fencing around Riley Park, forced entrances and exits, strict guidance for navigating the market, and, of course, mask mandates.
But last Saturday, our fifth market of the year, was different. With Art on the Grand’s scores of people and our market shoppers filling downtown Farmington, we truly were open: no fencing, no forced entrances, no masks. This time I could say it and mean it: The market is open!
We took our guidance from the Governor’s Office and the Michigan Farmers Market Association, who agreed that, as of June 1, outdoor markets – and I emphasize outdoor – will no longer require masks, whether you’re vaccinated or not. It’s a tell-tale sign that the vaccination rate is high enough to make mask wearing discretionary. Sanitizer machines still dot the market, and free masks are available at our Information Tent. But in some ways these remain the last vestiges of what will be remembered as “another time” in our lives. Which brings me to …
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
It happens every week: A call goes out for market volunteers. It’s the same call issued last season when the pandemic raged. Our volunteers, in service to community, raised their hands week in and week out to man the entrances and exits, help with curbside pickups, direct traffic flow, assist customers to find their way and make vendors feel safe while we collected weekly Covid screening forms. It was during this time of the greatest exposure to the virus that I honestly felt safest – In a circle of fellowship that forged friendship and the camaraderie of family.
(Oddly enough, I felt the most isolated and vulnerable in the safety of my own home, watching the dire headlines and bitter political discourse pour into my house through the nightly news. Weird.)
I can’t help but think of a concert given by Elton John in October 2001 in New York’ s Madison Square Garden. It was in tribute to the city’s police, fire and Emergency Medical Services who kept working in the rubble of the World Trade Center day and night. John dedicated to them and the city his song, “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”:
While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters …
Turn around and say good morning to the night …
I thank the Lord there are people out there like you.
I thank the Lord there are people out there like you…
I am grateful for the quiet dignity and courage shown by our own Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters who faced down the rabbit hole of the virus week after week. I thank the Lord there are people out there like you.
Coming in, heading out and coming up at the market
The Market is an ever-changing dynamic. Because we are a Michigan grower market, we offer food only in season. That’s why, when you come once to market, you find you have to come the next week and the next and the next because it’s always a different market.
For instance, asparagus has been headlining our marquee for much of the past five weeks, but it and the early greens are now running their course. So we welcome a relative newcomer, Michigan strawberries! To me nothing says summer-is-coming quite like biting into a juicy, sweet, fresh-picked strawberry from our Michigan farms. So let’s celebrate!
June 19 marks the Market’s seventh annual Strawberry Shortcake Day at the market hosted by Kapnick Orchards of Britton and Calder Dairy of Carleton. Friends of the Market volunteers will assemble 500 servings of fresh strawberries on scratch-made biscuits topped with freshly whipped cream, the operative words being fresh and scratch-made. I will have more to say in a special column next week about this Farmers Market fundraiser.
Also on June 19, we welcome the Farmington & Farmington Hills Foundations for Youth & Families, which is celebrating 25 years of community support. Part of that support can be found in our children’s Power of Produce (POP!) program, which helps teach kids where food comes from. Sidelined last year by the pandemic, I am happy to announce that POP! will return this summer. I will stay in touch and you can, too, by visiting www.farmingtonfarmersmarket.com.
It’s time to get ready for another week at the Market, so here’s saying, as always, “Until next time, see you at the Market!”