Day 2: Fulton Street Farmers Market

While Grand Rapids may be a bustling metropolis in its own right, once you get outside of the city limits, the landscape turns rural very fast. Since I grew up in the country, this is one of the most appealing aspects for living in this area. I have museums and restaurants and big festivals at my disposal, but I also have fields and rivers to play in when I want to get away from the crowds.

I didn’t know how diverse the agricultural landscape of Michigan was until I moved to the west side of the state. Where I came from on the east side, we grew corn and soybeans and wheat. My husband, a westsider, grew up next to a vineyard with an apple orchard in his backyard and a cherry orchard down the street. The proximity to Lake Michigan provides a perfect climate for growing fruits of all types.

So when summer comes, we stock up on all the delicious treats our state has to offer. And lucky for us, there’s one place in town where we can get it all: the Fulton Street Farmers Market.

The Farmers Market has been in business since 1922. Four days a week, local farmers from all over West Michigan gather to sell their crops to the people of Grand Rapids.

I love coming out to the market on Saturday morning. My husband and I get out of bed and throw on yesterday’s clothes. We park on a side street in front of someone’s house because the parking lot is always a madhouse, but we don’t mind, because this affords us the chance to walk a block or two in the morning humidity. We dodge people on the sidewalk coming from the market who carry overflowing grocery bags or cute toddlers (or both). Many people walk along with us, insulated coffee cups in their hands and a sleepiness in their eyes.

As we approach the market, we are confronted with the loud murmur of many voices. People wander in all directions. There is a food truck at the entrance of the market that sells breakfast items and a building with an open garage door where they sell milk and ice cream and meats. There is always a musician playing in the open square that leads to the vendors. This Saturday, it was a small group of children playing string instruments, plucking songs like the “Irish Washer Woman.” Adults stand and watch or sit on the steps nearby and listen. The music always adds a festive element to this morning tradition and energizes the shoppers.

The market received a major upgrade two years ago. Before that, it was a very basic structure. It used to only consist of an aisle that was framed in on both sides with wooden benches for farmers to display their wares. If the farmers wanted shade or protection from weather, they had to drape a tarp or a sheet over their stand. It looked more like a tent city than a Farmers Market. That didn’t stop anyone from coming, of course.

The old market structure; photo courtesy of mlive.com

The fact that it’s been renovated has only made buying fruits and vegetables a little more luxurious. Now there is a roof so vendors don’t have to provide their own shelter. The aisle has been widened so more people can shop at once without bumping into each other. Bathrooms have been upgraded. The design is open, friendly, beautiful, and welcoming.

The new structure helps the market feel more permanent to me; I feel like it gives the market longevity. The Farmers Market obviously wasn’t about to go anywhere. It’s been going on for nearly 100 years, so I’m sure I would keep going for 100 more despite what the structure looks like. But now it’s not just a little wood and metal. Now it’s brick. It’s built into the landscape. It shows that the city is committed to keeping the market in the same location, and it’s adjusting to the needs of both the farmers and shoppers, keeping them comfortable enough to continue conducting business as they always have. When renovations aren’t necessarily needed, but they are done anyhow to provide more comfort and ease, it shows that that the city cares about this tradition and wants to not only keep it going for those longtime patrons, but make it approachable for newcomers to experience.

Photo courtesy of Fulton Street Farmers Market

My husband and I make our way down the long aisle, flanked by vendors on both sides. We evaluate the stands on the right side, noting prices and quality of produce, and when we hit the end of the aisle, we turn around and do the same on the opposite side. We devise our plan, make a list, and go visit the stands we were impressed with to pick out our weekly produce.

We carry overflowing bags back to our car, dodging the sleepy people on the sidewalk who are heading toward the market. This week we scored apricots, blueberries, sweet cherries, sweet corn, green beans, and potatoes. I considered the peaches and the tomatoes, but didn’t want to buy everything at once. No matter. We’ll go back next week and get a new batch of fresh fruits and vegetables.

For more information about the Fulton Street Farmers Market, visit their website