Resilient Neighborhoods: This Detroit farmers market is reuniting neighbors isolated by the pandemic

Residents in Grandmont Rosedale are remembering what their neighbors look like as they stroll from one colorful tent to the next outside the North Rosedale Park Community House. It’s been over a year since some have seen each other face-to-face. 

For 16 years, the Northwest Detroit Farmers’ Market has been a staple in this area, a way to socialize, engage in outdoor family activities, buy healthy food and support small businesses. 

“It draws people to our neighborhood,” says market goer Marsha Bruhn, a North Rosedale Park resident. “It enlightens our park, and brings out a lot ofMarsha Bruhn entrepreneurs. I love the fact that I’m always running into neighbors and friends.”

Bruhn, who served 12 years on the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC) board, was part of a team that worked to relocate the market in 2014 from Bushnell Congregational Church at Grand River and Southfield Freeway to its current home on Scarsdale Street. 

Last summer, amid COVID-19, she participated on a limited basis with the curbside pick-up program GRDC offered market shoppers, but didn’t feel comfortable attending even the very small markets held later in the season.

“I really missed that sense of community, and I missed the soup,” she says, laughing. “I always come for that, and for Good Medicine Farm because he has great tomatoes and great corn.”

Jane Bate, owner of GreenHouse Soups & Chili has been a vendor at the market for many years. She makes homemade soups flavored with chicken pot pie, potato leek and a variety of others, including vegan options. The relish Bate buys from neighboring vendor and friend Debra Griffin, of Leo’s Southern Style Cha-Cha, is the secret sauce behind her coveted cabbage medley.

Out of the 18 weekly vendors and food trucks GRDC worked with prior to the pandemic, 12 have returned this season. Not every business survived the pandemic, says GRDC operations manager and market master Jocelyn Moss, and not all vendors are ready for in-person business. 

Yet, several new local businesses have debuted at the market this year. 

”Every gap we could possibly fill has been filled,” Moss says. “People just reached out because we’re an older market, we work with Eastern Market and are part of the Detroit Community Markets Network.

"If a certain day of the week doesn’t work for a vendor in their own community, they can be part of another market within the network," she says. “We all try to work together to make sure our vendors are able to make money, and at the same time be seen.”

Rosedale Park resident Derek English is a new vendor as well as a full-time dad, Ford employee and commissioned artist. He took advantage of working from homeNorth Rosedale Park Community House during COVID-19 to start a business with his two daughters.The company features spiced African coffee, and is part education, part philanthropy as well as for-profit. 

“A lot of people don’t realize Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee,” he says. “If you’re starting a coffee company, it makes sense to go to the roots.”

Since spending time in East Africa, English has been eager to share the social and cultural experience coffee has there, as well as the different ways it’s made. In honor of the region’s spiced coffee tradition, Faust Haus infuses its original blend with cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric and ginger.

“This creates a unique flavor profile for most American tastebuds,” English says.

The family seeks to “pour back” into the African diaspora through their business by donating a portion of proceeds to support relief organizations around the world. “Our idea is to be a triple bottom line business, with people, planet, and profits incorporated into our success,” English says.

The folks he and his daughters are selling to at the market are their neighbors, and every week those relationships get more refined. That breeds a different kind of customer, he says, holds them accountable as business owners, and builds the connections needed to be a true neighborhood. 

Sophia, Derek’s 15-year-old-daughter and chief technology officer at Faust Haus says she enjoys meeting new people each week at the market and learning about businesses that are popping up in houses near hers.

That sense of connection is something that’s been truly missed and is worth celebrating, says Moss.

“Even before COVID-19, after long Michigan winters, the market brings people out of their homes. They get together, sit under the big tree, and enjoy food while their kids play, baseball on one side, soccer on the other," she says. “It becomes a gathering place.”

New this season, that gathering nearly doubles on the first Thursday of every Grubbank vegan mealsmonth, when GRDC welcomes additional vendors to the “Shop Small,” market. Moss describes this as a “come one, come all” for local residents who have new home businesses or want to let people know what’s happening with their livelihoods since the pandemic.

“You’ll find everything from clothes to candles, skincare to homemade CBD oils,” she says. Craft demonstrations are also a part of the monthly gathering as well as music from local DJs or neighborhood bands.

"GRDC has been learning a lot during COVID-19 about how to best support vendors, especially the new ones," Moss says. From social media marketing to economic development, it’s all about helping them be successful, and about continuing to strengthen a sense of community. 

The Northwest Farmers Market can be found Thursdays, 4-8 p.m. at the North Rosedale Community House, 18445 Scarsdale St.

Here are some other farmers’ markets to catch in Detroit this season:

Brightmoor Artisans Farmers Market: Fridays 4-7 p.m. 
22375 Fenkell St.

D-Town Farm Stand: Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
14027 West Outer Dr.

Islandview Farmers Market: Third Wednesdays 4-7 p.m. (Aug.-Nov.)
 7200 Mack Ave. 

Sowing Seeds Growing Futures Farmers Market: Tuesdays 3-6 p.m.
18900 Joy Rd.

Hope Village Farmers Market: Wednesdays 3-7 p.m.
14150 Woodrow Wilson St.

Oakland Avenue Farmers Market: Saturdays 11 a.m - 3:30 p.m.
9354 Oakland Ave.

East Warren Farmers Market: Thursdays 3-7 p.m.
16835 E. Warren Ave.

Eastern Market: Tuesdays 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., Saturdays 6 a.m. - 4 p.m.
2934 Russell St.

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.
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Read more articles by Sarah Williams.

Sarah Williams is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in metro Detroit. Her work focuses on individuals and nonprofit organizations investing in their communities through arts and culture, holistic healthcare, education and neighborhood revitalization. Follow her on Instagram @sarahwilliamstoryteller