WRITER | Sarah Spohn
PHOTO | Kalamazoo Farmers Market
Kalamazoo Farmers Market
It’s a sunny day, and you’re wandering up and down the aisles at an outdoor farmers market. Your senses come alive –– your eyes gaze upon vibrant flowers and your nose tingles at the scent of ethnic food. You hear the sounds of a local farmer chatting with a customer about fresh fruits and veggies from their farm. Summer is here.
This scene occurs weekly at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market as it fulfills its mission to connect customers with small businesses. Operated by the People’s Food Co-op of Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo Farmers Market is located at 1204 Bank Street and operates from May 6 to November 18.
Recently, the market underwent a massive, multimillion-dollar renovation. Market manager, Katelyn Simpson, talks about the market’s history and how it has evolved over the years.
“We have been operating out of the Bank Street location since 1947, but market roots go all the way back to the 1800s in Kalamazoo,” Simpson says.
The Bank Street location is steeped in history, as it is former Native American land and more recently the former home of celery fields. The renovation project required the market to be temporarily moved to Mayors’ Riverfront Park in 2021. On opening day 2022, the market returned to its original setting. “We totally revamped the space, renovated our vendor sheds, added more stall spaces, new bathrooms, new concrete, made it accessible –– which is really great for our shoppers –– new parking lots and they straightened out Bank Street,” Simpson says.
New stalls and vendor sheds allow the market to continue its mission to foster small business growth. “Oftentimes, the market is a starting point for people with small food businesses, artists and that kind of thing,” Simpson says. “We try to keep our vendor stall fees as low as we can get. We have options for seasonal vendors or daily vendors. We really try to nurture that small business relationship and help people grow.”
Many vendors like Cairo’s Kitchen, an Egyptian restaurant, got their start as a vendor preparing food onsite. After a successful season or two, they gathered a large enough customer base to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant. “That kind of stuff happens all the time,” Simpson says. “It’s really cool to see the evolution of small businesses.”
While some vendors merely get their start here, others have a longstanding history and relationship with the market, including DeLeo’s Farm, which is celebrating 51 years at the market. Vendors are broken into four main categories: growers, producers, retailers and artisans. “We’re trying to bring diversity with our vendors and our customer base and the products we offer,” Simpson says. “We want to be able to offer nutritious fruits, vegetables and other food from small local businesses to our community. We also want to be a gathering space, somewhere where people can come, meet their friends or talk with local farmers.”
The atmosphere allows for education and engagement, another focus of the market. Each vendor has a labeled category sign, encouraging transparency and accountability. “Customers can have conversations about the vendors and ask them what kind of growing practices they’re using,” Simpson says. “Being able to meet the person who prepared your food, or who grew it, picked it, packed it, transported it to market and is now selling it to you is an experience that is super unique to small farmers markets. I think it can help people have a better appreciation of where their food comes from, or maybe just a better outlook on that.”
Customers can mingle with growers, inquire about ways to store the food, learn preparation tips and share recipes, something you don’t typically find in a traditional grocery store setting. A program called “Taste of the Market” takes place on Saturdays, featuring a cooking demonstration with local chefs, dieticians and culinary program participants.
The market also aims to increase food access in the community by accepting four types of food assistance including SNAP and P-EBT, Double Up Food Bucks, WIC Project FRESH and Senior Project FRESH.
If you’ve never been to a farmer’s market, Simpson provides some basic tips to help you plan your shopping trip. “If you have internet access, check out the map beforehand so you can shop before you get there,” she says. “Our map will have all the vendors that will be there. You can click on their profile and see what they’ll have to offer that day. That’s really helpful. Bringing your own bags is very helpful and very sustainable.”
Throughout the May-November market season, the Kalamazoo Farmers Market offers a few different types of markets. On Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. the traditional farmers market features around 130 vendors in an outdoor 267,000 square-foot space. Mini markets are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. from June 6 to October 12, with 15-20 vendors. Four night markets per season are offered on the third Thursday of each month, in partnership with the Edison Neighborhood Association.
Kalamazoo Farmers Market
1204 Bank Street, Kalamazoo