Come spring, Detroiters will have a new venue to buy fresh tomatoes, collards, and other locally-sourced produce and food products. The Corktown Farmers Market is set to open in May, joining the ranks of other outdoor marketplaces found throughout the city, from Wayne State University to Northwest Detroit.
Located on a strip of land along Michigan Avenue between the Lodge Service Drive and the Detroit Institute of Bagels
(DIB), the new market will be open Thursdays, 3-7 p.m., from May through October. The DIB is spearheading the project in partnership with two Corktown-based urban farms, ACRE
and Brother Nature Produce
Market organizers expect to host a dozen local growers and food businesses. Love's Custard Pie
has confirmed a booth, and Grown In Detroit
and Friends Potato Chips
have also expressed interest. Organizers are currently looking for other vendors.
Several factors inspired organizers to create Detroit's newest farmers market. Greg Willerer, who runs Brother Nature Farm with his wife Olivia, had previously organized a farmers market at the Lafayette Greens
garden in downtown Detroit. When he found out that DIB, where his friend Hannah Clark of ACRE Farm works, was developing a proposal to start a Corktown-based market, he decided to join their effort and move his market further west down Michigan Avenue.
Willerer says Corktown was an ideal choice for a number of reasons. "Local farmers and new food businesses both need a busy location," he says. "After 3 p.m., Michigan Avenue is busy with folks going home by bus, bike, and cars. It's just busy in general since Corktown is densely populated.
"We want farmers markets to be more accessible than a grocery store; people can park and get on their way home. Since this is at night, the Corktown Farmers can also be a place where you eat outside on a picnic table, see your friends and neighbors, and try some new things grown a mile away."
There's more to the Corktown Farmers market than its location; it has a social mission as well. Organizers want the food to be fresh and high-quality, the vendors to be local, and the venue itself to be accessible to area residents and visiting commuters. To this end, they're striving to make it:
- A well-rounded source of chemical-free produce, locally-made desserts, sauces, pies, and more – better than what a grocery store carries.
- A local business incubator with an affordable $10/week booth fee.
- An evening market where people can stop by after work and quickly get something they can't find at a grocery store to make a nice home-cooked meal.
Improvements to the lot next to DIB are being made with $10,000 in donations from HATCH Detroit and the Detroit Lions.
"The money they're giving us is going towards building out a fence that's consistent with the one between our building and the Lager House, and we're putting up some signage and doing some pavers on the east side of our buildings," says DIB co-owner Ben Newman.
While organizers are still fleshing out plans, Newman expects the space will also be used as a live entertainment venue. He is excited about what the project means for businesses on the avenue.
"It's my goal as an urban planner to have an active strip here from the Lodge to almost I-96 on Michigan Avenue," he says. "We're interested in making the block with Brooklyn Street and PJ's [Lager House] a block that complements the work that the Slow's crowd and other people – The Sugar House, the burger bar on the other end of Corktown – are doing."
As for vendors, Allen Love, who owns Love's Custard Pies with his wife Donnie, can't wait to open their booth at the market.
His business started as a custard ice cream shop but switched over to pies in 2009 in response to customer demand. They now offer 27 varieties of custard pies, which they bake in a licensed commercial kitchen and currently sell at Eastern Market.
"We're known for our custards, but we also do fruit pies," says Love. "We'll also have meat pies, vegetable pies, and vegetarian pies. We have a pie known as 'build-your-own pie,' which you can build from a vegetarian or meat base."
Willerer, a longtime friend of the Loves, got the couple involved in the new market.
"I think it will be a good location," says Love. "You've got good traffic over there. We want to be part of an old-style neighborhood that's coming together. Everybody works together, and I think it's a good area to be in. We're looking forward to being a part of it."
The Corktown Farmers Market is scheduled to open May 14.
David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.