On Saturday mornings at 7 a.m. most college students are sleeping after staying out late on Friday nights and are unaware that other people are already out doing things in Ann Arbor. While fluffy pillows and featherbeds may seem like a godsend at this time, students who are sleeping are missing out on the action that takes place early on at the Ann Arbor Farmer”s Market in Kerrytown.
Vendors from near and far (far as in over an hour away) arrive in Ann Arbor early enough to set up tables to sell apples, jewelry, various flavors of jams, sheeps” wool stuffed animals and other items they have made or grown, often from their own farms.
Due to cold winters, the market is only open on Saturdays between January and April. The vendors are willing to brave the cold weather from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. in order to make a buck and to cater to those customers who prefer the taste of old fashioned goods over supermarket products.
I arrived at the Farmer”s Market around noon, expecting to see crowds of people fighting for the best looking fruit and bartering with the vendors. To my surprise, the market was practically empty and the only fruit for sale was apples, which makes sense due to the limitations from cold weather. I soon learned that the majority of the market commotion takes place very early, even before the selling begins.
“My best apples are gone by 7 (a.m.). Some people even get here at 6 (a.m.) to buy apples to take with them to work,” explained Alex Nemeth, a vendor whose family has been coming to Ann Arbor from its orchard to participate in the selling for over 70 years.
While many of his apples had already been purchased, he still had an abundance of Red Delicious and Jonathan apples (a tart apple cleverly named after apple pioneer Johnny Appleseed). One would think that Nemeth is the most successful due to his prices being the lowest at the market, but he still insisted that “There really isn”t any competition between the apple vendors.”
Like Nemeth, many of the vendors come from families which have been connected to the market or farming for many years. Chelsea resident Nancy Armstrong, who sells an array of jams, butters and syrups, grew up on a raspberry farm. As a young girl, she left her farm life behind and graduated in 1965 from the University with a degree in math. However, the Sixties did not provide many opportunities for women.
“Women could either be a teacher or a nurse back then,” recalls Armstrong. “I taught, but I was through with it when I had kids. I went back to the farm, but I swore that I wasn”t going to make any damn jam.”
Now, she runs a successful business at her farm called Window Vinegar, which specializes in many “damn jams.” She also puts her math skills to good use, measuring the exact amount of ingredients to make deliciously eclectic preserves, like crabapple jam, which is surprisingly sweet. Her products are popular among people of all ages. Her tomato jam is often bought by grandchildren for their grandparents because it brings back nostalgic memories.
I walked down to a nearby table, where a man who prides himself in being called “Amber Al” was selling amber and turquoise jewelry. There were many bracelets and necklaces, some he made and some imported from Lithuania. There were also amber pendants with insects that had been stuck in the amber for 17-40 million years. I asked Al if these innovative and highly creative pieces of jewelry were inspired by “Jurassic Park.”
“I”ve been selling insect-in-amber jewelry for some time now. But, “Jurassic Park” really did boost my business,” said Amber Al.
It was a very enjoyable experience since everyone was so friendly and helpful. Enjoyable, that is, until I approached a table where different flavors of honey were being sold.
Thomas Arnott, a honey entrepreneur from Howell who reads the “Bee Hive Product Bible,” initially seemed pleased that I was inquiring about his honey development and even let me taste all four of his flavors, including one made with bee pollen.
“Bee pollen has every nutrient that the body needs,” he explained. “I”ve been stung many times just to make that honey.”
I was going to ask him about the Yellow Rocket honey, when he suddenly scowled at me and asked if he could “help the real customers.” He was a honey snob, and I, just a journalist, could only walk away.
I considered finding Alex Nemeth so that I could purchase the biggest apple and throw it at the honey guy, but I resisted. The Farmer”s Market is not a place for brawling. It is a place where people can get together, sell and show off their products, bond throughout the cold and make fun of the weirdos who make the ugly stuffed cheetahs.