On any given Saturday, there’s a high chance I won’t be able to drag myself out of bed before noon. Last Friday night, despite my body’s anticipated extra resting hours, I set my alarm for 10 a.m. and changed the beat of my circadian rhythm in preparation for Kerrytown’s well-attended weekend affair: the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. Yet, by seasoned shopper standards, I was late to the party.
According to market manager Sarah DeWitt, a recognizable crop of local epicureans and Main Street chefs tend to arrive at 7 a.m. sharp.
Along with beating the laggard crowd, the regulars alternate between chatting with farmers, inspecting produce and carting away wholesome treats in massive boxes and chef pans.
“There are fewer Ann Arbor restaurants not stopping down here,” DeWitt said.
Maggie Long, Jolly Pumpkin chef and managing partner, is always among the early birds toting her handcart.
“She refuses to give up market mornings because she wants to keep that face time, connection and sense of community with the different farmers,” said Chirs North, Jolly Pumpkin floor manager.
For nearly a century, sustaining a sense of community among shoppers, local businesses and farmers has been the essence of the market. A majority of the veteran vendors are either second- or third-generation farmers whose relatives began selling at the original location near Main Street in 1919. The current market was erected in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration and is situated on Detroit St. in the heart of Kerrytown.
Today, the market is “producers only,” meaning all items for sale are made or grown by vendors with no resale. It’s stipulated within the market rules that those who sell products must grow their items in Michigan or an abutting state.
Accordingly, nearly all vendors are within an hour radius, with the exception of Donna Puehler, owner of Grandma’s Kitchen in Ohio. For three decades, Puehler has been a beloved provider of baked goods and eggs, and simply known as “grandma” to frequent market-goers.
At present, the market offers the products of more than 60 produce and diversified produce farmers — those who sell additional items such as greenhouse flowering plants along with fruits and vegetables — 30 artisan vendors and a few specialty food vendors. Essentially, it’s the one-stop shop for everything from leather handbags to maple syrup to the recent addition of Fluffy Bottom Creamery’s yogurts and cheeses.
“We aim to maintain a variety,” DeWitt said. “We try to cater to all product niches of fresh, local foods.”
To ensure the market’s longstanding mission of providing shoppers with locally grown foods directly from the source, each seller’s farmland is routinely inspected.
“That’s a pretty particular thing for our market that’s not true of a lot of other farmers markets,” DeWitt said. “It’s something we’re particularly proud of.”
As a Davis, Calif. native, DeWitt frequented the city’s local farmers market, and has since remained a farmers market enthusiast. She still looks to her hometown marketplace for inspiration. For instance, a few years ago in the summertime, DeWitt introduced the predominantly Californian trend of food truck rallies on Wednesday evenings. The rallies offer an alternative to Ann Arbor’s brick-and-mortar restaurant fare.
“We draw upon multiple sources for inspiration, but for me I think it always goes back to Davis because I think those things that stick with you as a kid are what you remember as adults,” DeWitt said.
As I sat on a bench just outside the market with DeWitt, her passion for the community was palpable as she stopped to greet each visitor whom she seemed to know on a personal level.
After our chat I strolled through the market, finding myself unexpectedly taken by rows of violet cabbage rosettes and the last of growers peak-season apples. I was instantly convinced that the Ann Arbor Farmers Market is the only weekend event worth sacrificing a few hours of sleep.