View these photos showing scenes from farmers markets from throughout Michigan. Check out hundreds of additional photos in this collection on flickr by the Michigan Municipal League.

The 300-plus farmers markets that exist in Michigan come in all shapes and sizes. They’re in large urban centers and tiny villages. They pop up in parking lots, fields, roadsides, on Main Street and in permanent, historic structures.

A girl is excited about getting her face painted at the Sunday Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

A girl is excited about getting her face painted at the Sunday Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

They sell traditional farmers market fare – corn, apples, maple syrup, potatoes, and pumpkins – and the unexpected – homemade spices, baby clothes, fresh-caught fish, jewelry, and even sea urchin. You can get your knives sharpened, your face painted and your groceries for the week. At a farmers market you can find old friends and meet new ones. And you can talk to the vendor who grew the melon or flowers you’re thinking about buying.

Farmers markets can even help create a place for people to gather and revitalize a community and give an economic boost to existing businesses and inspire new merchants to open.

In writing a how-to case study about Michigan Farmers Market for the Michigan Municipal League, I got the chance this summer to visit more than 30 markets across our great state. I saw thousands of people pack into the new location for the Flint Farmers Market to great fanfare for its grand opening in downtown on June 21. I smelled the yummy salsa dish a woman was preparing for her church fundraiser at the Dansville Farmers Market. I saw a man holding a rooster in Birmingham, a robotics team in Grand Blanc, a violinist performing in East Lansing, a flutist in Traverse City, and Spanish mackerel on sale at the new Downtown Market in Grand Rapids.

I’ve always enjoyed going to farmers markets but the sights and sounds I experienced in my market tour this summer were truly inspirational, exciting and simply fun. While I saw many successful markets, I did experience some that seemed to need a shot in the arm. I also attempted to go to a couple markets that I eventually learned are no longer in operation.

So what makes one market flourish as another withers on the vine?

Farmers Joe and Mary Cooley enjoy talking with customers at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on Island Park.

Farmers Joe and Mary Cooley enjoy talking with customers at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on Island Park.

The success or failure of a market can come down to three words: Relationships, relationships, relationships, said Dru Montri, director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association, an East Lansing-based non-profit organization that tracks and provides support to farmers markets throughout the state. Montri said the 320 farmers markets in their data base this year is a record high since the association formed and starting tracking farmers markets in 2006. While some close each year many more open.

“Farmers markets are based on relationships,” Montri explained. “That’s the best thing about markets, and it can also be the most challenging aspect of markets. It’s relationships between farmers themselves, relationships between vendors and the market management, relationships between the market manager and sponsors and relationships between vendors and shoppers. All of those are very, very important. People love farmers markets because of that. People love going and talking to vendors about how things are grown.”

But Montri said when relationships sour that can impact everything in a market. A successful market will have strong leaders who can forge good relationships on all levels. She suggests a market have a board of directors or advisory team to oversee it.

Montri said the number of farmers markets in Michigan have doubled since 2006 for several reasons. Those reasons include an increase in consumer interest about where and how their food is made and processed; a growing awareness among community leaders about the value a farmers market can have in economic development and creating a sense of place and community in their town; and a desire by farmers and vendors in direct marketing options, which tend to be more profitable.

She believes the number of markets will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, especially as more markets start to offer financial assistance programs to those in need, such as the acceptance of SNAP Bridge Cards and related services.

“There is such a large number of consumers who haven’t even yet considered shopping at farmers markets,” Montri said. “As long as we have the potential to bring more people into farmers markets, we have the opportunity to expand the number of markets. As long as we are strategic about growth, we can avoid these saturation points. But, starting a market a mile away from an existing market on the same day of the week, for example, can cause over saturation.”

View hundreds of photos from Michigan farmers markets on the League's flickr page, flickr.com/michigancommunities

View hundreds of photos from Michigan farmers markets on the League’s flickr page, flickr.com/michigancommunities

You can view slide shows of all the markets I visited here in this collection on the League’s flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michigancommunities/collections/72157647210449456/.

There are photos of markets from these communities and locations: Royal Oak, Howell, Old Town Lansing, Flint, Downtown Lansing, Grand Blanc, Farmers Market at the Capitol, Traverse City, Canton, Harbor Springs, Detroit Eastern Market, Saginaw, Midland, Frankenmuth, Port Huron, Williamson, Grand Rapids YMCA, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Birmingham, Grand Rapids Aquinas College Metro Health, East Lansing, Mt. Clemens, Mt. Pleasant, Dansville, Fenton, Bay City, Grand Rapids Fulton Street, Port Austin, Grand Rapids downtown, Walled Lake, Wayne State University, Islandview Market in Detroit, Lathrup Village and Linden.

Check out a video of Montri discussing the value of farmers markets here: http://placemaking.mml.org/michigan-farmers-markets/

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at (734) 669-6317 and mbach@mml.org. 

The German McCloy fellows visited Michigan in late March. The League had planned a very special Detroit itinerary for them, and we were excited to get started. But first things first–we gave them an introduction to the structure of local government in Michigan. They toured the League’s Ann Arbor building after a drive through Ann Arbor for a quick tour, and specifically to see some affordable housing development in the city.

We hit the streets of Detroit Monday morning. Our contingency consisted of Heather Van Poucker, Director of Information & Policy Research, myself, and our four fellows:   

  • Dr. Christine Wilcken, Assistant Chief Executive, German Association of Cities, Berlin
  • Sandra Bohm, Head of Department, Vehicle Registration Center, City of Offenbach
  • Dr. Christine Meyer, personal assistant of the Lord Mayor of Nuremburg, City of Nuremburg and
  • Henrik Neumann, city and regional planner, City of Jena.

Our first stop: Recycle Here!. The fellows thought they were going to see a run-of-the-mill municipal recycling center. Surprise! I set the stage beforehand, but Recycle Here! is anything but run-of-the-mill, and they were rather astonished at it. The overpowering sensation is not just the art (murals on all the walls, inside and out, the fire-breathing dragon, the outside sculptures)—but the force that is Matt Naimi. He is fired up about recycling, he is fired up about art, he is fired up about community. His intent to start a recycling center in Detroit has morphed into so much more.Recycle Here

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Our next site was the Green Garage & Green Alley. It is a building in Mid-town that is used as co-working space. It was a garage used to park fire trucks many,green garage 2 many years ago. It was reclaimed and rehabbed into a sustainable, energy efficient beautiful building. From there we moved on to visit the Revolve retail space around the corner. The last phase of our journey for the day was to the offices of  Michigan Community Resources for an introduction to the Detroit Future City work. We learned about the effort to include residents from all areas of Detroit into the planning process. A particulary innovative approach was through the use of online gaming to reach young people. Dan Pitera, of Detroit Collaborative Design Center led us through the start of the plan via Mayor Bing’s initiative to its current phase. It was so impressive–so comprehensive and visionary. It covers economic growth, land use, transportation and infrastructure, neighborhoods, land and bulidings, and civic engagement. Some of the imperatives from the plan are:

“We must provide residents with meaningful ways to make change in their communities and the city at large” and

“We must use innovative approaches to transorm our vacant land in ways that increase the value and productivity and promote long-term sustainability”

 We ended our day with a visit to the Guardian building to be awed by it’s beauty.

bike-sharingCycling used to be part of my personal transportation plan. On warm, sunny days, I loved riding my bike leisurely around my neighborhood near downtown Plymouth. Sometimes I had a destination in mind – usually the Dairy King on Main Street – and other days I just enjoyed feeling the breeze in my hair and admiring my neighbors’ beautiful flower gardens. Then along came my husband, who acted like he was training for a 100k ride through the mountains every time he hopped on his bike. I couldn’t keep up, so I gave up.

But the recent surge in bike-sharing programs in places like Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C. – and now Michigan – has piqued my interest. Like the legions of urban cycling enthusiasts, I appreciate the benefits to my health and the environment. But I’m also a fan of easily popping into stores where parking spaces are at a premium.

When I was in Chicago last summer, their new Divvy bike-share system was all the rage. Residents and tourists of all ages were renting one of the 3,000 distinctive-looking blue bikes and riding to offices, restaurants and beaches, happily avoiding traffic congestion and $25/day parking fees. The popular program, funded by federal grants and city funds, hopes to expand into suburban Oak Park and Evanston.

Bike-sharing is now catching on in Michigan. Communities are recognizing the benefits of less traffic congestion, more economic activity, cleaner air and better health that can be realized by adding a bike-sharing program to their transportation plans.

biking-in-Ann-ArborSoon, for just a few dollars, I’ll be able to jump on a bike housed at a kiosk near my Ann Arbor office, pedal to a cool restaurant for lunch, and work off the calories on my way back to work. No muss, no fuss, and no expensive gasoline sending toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Thanks to a $1.4 million budget and a partnership between the City of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan and the Clean Energy Coalition, the ArborBike program is expected to launch this summer with 14 kiosks around downtown, the central U-M campus and North Campus.

Other Michigan cities have found creative ways to launch bike-sharing programs in their communities. Detroit hasn’t yet put a formal program into motion, but last summer, Rock Ventures, a major company with several Detroit locations, started a bike-sharing program for its employees. With nine racks and 60 bikes, they logged 6.500 rentals from July through November.

capital-community-bike-share2With limited funding, Lansing became home to Michigan’s first municipally-sponsored bike-sharing system. Capital Community Bike Share, which launched in October, saved money by using A2B Bike Share’s technology, buying cheaper bikes and focusing on four locations near Michigan Avenue. Eric Shertzing, the project’s director, sees the program as a template that could benefit other communities. He also envisions replacing his fleet with Michigan-made bikes.

In Traverse City, discussions are underway for a formal bike-sharing program. But in the meantime, Carter’s Compost operates a simple system with three bikes they loan out free for two days each. Their mission: “We are dedicated to building community by using the power of the bicycle to make composting super easy for our TC neighbors.”

Dan Burden, a notable long-time friend of the Michigan Municipal League and co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, has caught the attention of Burden - Birmingham 2the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, he was honored with a 2014 White House Champion of Change award for his tireless efforts to make pedestrians and bicyclists an important part of the transportation equation. It is a recognition well deserved.

Dan’s dedication is unyielding. His travels take him to communities all over the country for more than 300 days a year. Many of those days have been spent here in Michigan, leading walking audits designed to uncover neighborhood opportunities and find solutions. He brings people together from all sectors, engages them in conversation, and inspires them to reimagine the future of their community.

Burden - BirminghamAlong with several of my League colleagues, I have had the privilege of accompanying Dan on many of his walking audits. Every community has its own unique assets and challenges, so I learn something new each and every time. With his bright road construction safety vest and measuring tape in hand, he leads a group of stakeholders and local officials up and down sidewalks, through parking lots and alleys, and across busy streets, offering up all the possibilities. With his years of experience and knowledge—and contagious enthusiasm—even the naysayers start to believe. Step by step, Dan is truly making our communities more livable and walkable.

Congratulations, Dan!  We appreciate all the great work you have done and continue to do in Michigan. Thank you for being one of Michigan’s greatest cheerleaders.