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. 

Watch the award-winning video.

The Michigan Municipal League’s animated Partnership for Place video shown at the start of 2014 Capital Conference received the highest award possible in the national 2014 Videographer Awards competition run by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

There were 1,500 entries from throughout the United States and the League’s video was among the top 12 percent to receive the highest honor – “award of excellence.” The League was the only award of excellence winner from Michigan. View the complete list of award of excellence winners here: https://enter.videoawards.com/winners/excellence/.

In addition to the recognition, the League will receive a movie-style clapboard as a trophy.

The League’s Partnership for Place: An Agenda for a Competitive 21st Century Michigan is a proactive policy agenda that proposes a commitment of action in partnership between the state and its municipalities. The goal of this effort is that these policies will facilitate Michigan’s economic growth and allow for the development of places to provide key services and amenities that contribute to a high quality of life.

The Partnership for Place focuses on a more regional approach to service delivery, which would change the way services are provided, how resources are dedicated, and how systems are supported. Approved by the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees in June of 2013, this policy agenda proposes actions that will re-establish a partnership for prosperity in four key areas: Funding for the future; Michigan in motion; Place for talent; and Strength in structure. Read more about the agenda here.

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

Four lanes of fast traffic coming around the curve on Portage make the Washington Square area an unappealing place to walk or bike.

Four lanes of fast traffic coming around the curve on Portage make the Washington Square area an unappealing place to walk or bike.

I spent the past few days in Kalamazoo, taking a hard look at Portage Street with Brad and Rebekah from LSL Planning (our consultants), the city’s community development and engineering staff, and about 50 community members. The city has plans in place to rebuild the street beginning in 2017, making this an ideal time to ask, “How should this street work when we’re done with it?”

For a few months, we’ve been looking at how to support biking, walking, and other options for getting to Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s new healthy living campus.  The campus will be just south of downtown Kalamazoo, nestled in among Bronson Medical Center, Western Michigan University’s new medical school, and the county’s mental health services, which will also be moving to the area.

Portage Street kept coming up as a concern in our conversations with representatives of these various institutions.  Portage is effectively the front door for many of these destinations, a major entry to downtown, and the heart of the Edison Neighborhood—or, at least, it should be. Currently, the street is focused on moving traffic through as quickly as possible, and the neighborhood and traditional business district along it have suffered as a result.

Community members  designed their ideal Portage Street as part of the conversation.

Community members designed their ideal Portage Street as part of the conversation.

Across a 24 hour whirlwind of open houses, presentations, walking tours, drawing, and
data crunching, we found nearly unanimous support for the idea of converting the street from four lanes to three, which would reduce crashes by getting left turns out of the flow of traffic, help keep drivers to the speed limit, smooth some of the curves in the street to handle truck traffic, and free up space for other users of the street.  Most of the conversation focused on how that extra space should be used—bike lanes to support safe access through the neighborhood?  On-street parking for businesses? Wider sidewalks for pedestrians, streetscaping, and sidewalk seating for restaurants? Center medians?

We came out of the workshop with some solid concepts, but also a major caveat: current traffic levels on the street are near the limits of what can be handled in three lanes. As KVCC and their partners in the emerging health and wellness district move towards construction, they’ll need to consider how they’re getting staff, students, and visitors in and out—if everybody shows up by car, the resulting traffic will likely overwhelm a three-lane version of Portage Street.

Kelly Clarke discusses the Kalamazoo County Land Bank properties along Portage, and how the street affects their business attraction efforts.

Kelly Clarke discusses the Kalamazoo County Land Bank properties along Portage, and how the street affects their business attraction efforts.

This is a great example of how placemaking is more complex than simply, “if you do this, then that will happen,” and must involve the active participation of community stakeholders: turning Portage Street into a multimodal corridor will both support new business and housing development on the doorstep of the new KVCC campus and also enable people to get around the area by walking, biking, and transit—modes fitting the health mission of the campus—but if the college were not at the table as an enthusiastic participant in this process, their development would itself inhibit the city from making a change to the street.

Fortunately, KVCC is not only at the table, but hosting it, and our next step will be to take them both the draft concepts from this workshop for further discussion, as well as some recommendations about how they can support a broad range of options for people coming to and from the new campus.