Americans love farmer's markets. According to the Department of Agriculture, there were more than 8,200 farmers markets in the U.S. in 2014. That's an increase from 2,400 in 1996. People are finding farmers, and farmers and vendors are finding people to buy their goods.
West Michigan has a great selection of markets to choose from, but arguably one of the best is in Muskegon.
The Muskegon Farmers Market is located at 242 West Western Avenue, near the U.S. Post Office in downtown. For hours of operation visit the Muskegon Farmers Market website.
History of the Muskegon Farmers Market
That old rascal Grover Cleveland was President back when Muskegon first held an organized market. The year was 1886 and the trees were falling in Muskegon: forty-seven lumber mills were operating on Muskegon Lake as the city served as one of the most prolific lumber suppliers in the midwest.
That was the same year Muskegon hosted their first market, on a plot of land on the corner of Cedar and Eastern streets. But farmers were not welcome. Why not? Because local business owners feared the farmers would whittle away at their profits. It was another twenty years before Muskegon had a true farmers market.
In 1907 a new mayor named John Campbell (a lumber baron) thought it would be a good idea to have a market for farmers to sell their goods. He had the city buy land on Morris Avenue for that purpose. It went well for a while, until sales started to decline and farmers stopped coming. When Campbell was defeated for reelection, the market was halted.
In 1921 the Muskegon City Commission approved a farmers market at the site of the wood and hay market. The city has hosted a market for farmers ever since. The market has operated at the current location, on West Western Avenue, since 2014.
The Muskegon Farmers Market is an impressive facility, with a pavilion and spacious area for many vendors under covered spots in the central part of downtown.
Vendors at the Farmers Market
Every week throughout the peak summer season, the Muskegon Farmers Market hosts dozens of farmers and vendors. They range from traditional farmers selling fruits and vegetables, cheese manufacturers, flower sales, bakeries, and a coffee roaster, plus many more.
The market is also a place to experience all that this lakeside city has to offer.
"The farmers market is a reflection of Muskegon," says Daniel Bollweg, a barista who frequently works at the Aldea Coffee stand, and a resident who enjoys shopping at the market.
"If you want to see what Muskegon is, go to the Farmers Market," Bollweg says. "The mayor is there, everyone is there—rich, poor, black, white. It's diverse, just like Muskegon. I like working it because people have smiles on their faces, they're happy to be there."
Being happy at the market is easy, but it can be difficult to find enough hands to carry away the great deals you'll find. Need the ingredients for your next tasty sandwich? You'll find locally grown lettuce, onion, tomatoes, as well as local cheese and meats. Finish it off with wonderful bread from a local bakery. Want local honey to add to your tea? Or tea for that matter? It's all there for you.
"I always go home with several bags of great stuff," says Mark Wooters, a retired dentist living in Whitehall. "I find vegetables for my salads, it all looks so great and it's affordable." For many like Wooters, the market affords them an opportunity to connect directly with the source of their food.
"I like talking to the farmer," Wooters explained, "I enjoy learning about the food they offer, how it was grown, what can be done with it. You get the best recipe ideas from the people who grow your food."
Laughing Tree Brick Oven Bakery has been a vendor at the Muskegon Farmers Market for more than seven years, and they credit their presence with helping them shape their business, a business that needs a home like the farmers market.
"The farmer’s markets are the lifeblood of our business—particularly because we do not have a brick and mortar shop. They are our storefront!," says co-owner Hilde Muller. "The markets are the place we get to know our customers and where our customers get to know us.
"Not only is it a source of income, it’s a source of connection on several levels. In a fundamental way the farmers market keeps us connected to the ground, to our food systems, and it keeps those food systems local. But it’s also a place of abundant human connection as well—a place where people from all walks of life come together to support one another and to celebrate the nourishment that food and community provide. As I see it, the vitality of the farmer’s market is a gauge by which we can measure the vitality of the wider community."
For vendors and shoppers, the farmers market is more than a simple commerce activity. It's a "pleasure ground" where the community meets to interact. It's a "third place" that promotes shared values and equality. That educates, entertains, and nourishes. The farmers market is a valuable part of the Muskegon community.
"The markets truly are a source of great joy for us," Muller says, "it’s great to be a part of something so dynamic and life-giving for the wider community."