Getting Fresh

Metro Detroit has sprouted a bumper crop of farmers markets, thanks to trends in healthful eating and local buying. Open-air fruit-and-vegetable bazaars are also becoming the new place to see and be seen.
Getting Fresh
Photograph by David Lewinski

Asparagus in June, cherries in July, raspberries in August. Michigan’s fields are resplendent in the summer with a dizzying variety of produce. In fact, our state’s agricultural industry is second only to California’s.

And one of the best places to sample Michigan bounty is at local farmers markets. There, you can browse stalls overflowing with foods that were likely picked the day before by the person standing behind the market table.

“What you get from a farmers market you can’t get unless you’ve grown it yourself,” says George Vutetakis, a chef and former owner of Inn Season Café in Royal Oak. “For me, going to a farmers market is a connection to the land. You’re one step away from getting your hands in the soil yourself.”

Farmers markets have been cropping up everywhere lately, with newer additions in cities like Birmingham joining decades-old institutions in Waterford Township and Ann Arbor. Many of the markets have dozens of stalls.

Where to Shop

With the proliferation of outdoor markets, many of us are lucky to have one within walking or biking distance. If that includes you, take the opportunity to work exercise into the errand. If driving is required, add a restaurant breakfast and treat the excursion as a morning date or family outing.

Getting Fresh map

Livingston County

1. Brighton
North First Street at Main, downtown Brighton
Saturdays through October
Information: 810-955-1471

Macomb County

2. Mount Clemens
North River Road (west of I-94)
Fridays and Saturdays through November
Information: 586-493-7600;

3. Warren Farms
City Square Park, Warren
Sundays through October

Oakland County

4. Birmingham
North Old Woodward, north of Harmon Street
Sundays through October
Information: 248-433-3550

5. Clarkston
Across from Depot Park, downtown Clarkston
Saturdays through September
Information: 248-821-4769;

6. Farmington
Grand River at Grove Street
Saturdays through October
Information: 248-473-7276;

7. Oakland County
2350 Pontiac Lake Rd., in Waterford Township
Saturdays and Sundays year-round; Tuesdays and Thursdays through December
Information: 248-858-5495;

8. Ortonville
Crossman Park, downtown
Friday evenings through September
Information: 248-240-0907

9. Rochester
East Third at Water Street
Saturdays through October
Information: 248-656-0060

10. Royal Oak
316 E. Eleven Mile Rd. at Troy Street
Saturdays and Sundays year-round, Fridays through December
Information: 248-246-3276;

11. Walled Lake
1499 E. West Maple Rd.
Wednesday mornings through October
Information: 248-624-4847

Washtenaw County

12. Ann Arbor
315 Detroit St.
(Kerrytown district)
Wednesdays and Saturdays through December
Information: 734-994-3276

13. Westside
2501 Jackson Rd., Ann Arbor
Thursdays through September
Information: 734-665-9399

Wayne County

14. Belleville
East Huron River Drive
at Liberty Street; Victory
Park Saturday mornings
through October
Information: 734-699-2034

15. Eastern Market
Russell Street between Mack and Gratiot
Monday through Saturday year-round
Information: 313-833-9300;

16. Highland Park
Woodward Avenue
Information: 313-422-8730

17. Lincoln Park Fort-Visger
Southfield Road between Fort Park and Lafayette
Sundays through October
Information: 313-386-1800, ext. 269

18. Livonia
29350 W. Chicago at
Middlebelt Saturday
mornings through October
Information: 734-261-3602

19. Northville
Corner of Seven Mile Road and Center Street, downtown Northville
Thursdays through October
Information: 248-349-7640

20. Northwest Detroit
15000 Southfield Rd.
Thursdays through October
Information: 313-387-4732,
ext. 103;

21. Plymouth
Downtown Plymouth
across from the park
Saturdays through October
Information: 734-453-1540

22. West Park
15200 Kercheval,
Grosse Pointe Park
Saturdays through September
Information: 313-822-2812,
ext. 200;

Shopping Tips

1. Find out what’s in season before you go.
A farmers market differs from a grocery store in many ways, but perhaps most so in what it carries: only what’s in season locally. If you show up in June looking for raspberries, you’ll be disappointed. Fortunately, the Michigan Department of Agriculture offers a farm-produce availability calendar. Visit and search “farm produce calendar.”

2. Know what you’re looking for.
Different markets offer different items. Detroit-made Avalon Bakery breads can be found at the Northwest Detroit Farmers Market, for example, while organic produce is plentiful at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. If you’re seeking something special, call the market manager.

3. Actually, don’t shop for anything in particular.
“Go without a shopping list, within reason,” says Molly Notarianni, manager of the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, a 150-vendor market in operation since 1918. “Be flexible and be swept away by the bounty, and pick whatever looks good. Let yourself be dictated by the whims of the market.”

4. Go early.
Most markets open around 6 or 7 a.m., and the best items and the greatest variety can be found early in the day. “The best shopping, in my opinion, is between 7:30 and 10:30,” says Joe Wheeler, master of the Oakland County Farmers Market in Waterford Township, a 90-stall market in operation since 1922. “That’s the time to get the best selection.”

5. Or go late.
Afternoon shoppers will have less variety to choose from and the best quality will be gone, but they’re more likely to find a bargain.

6. Bring cash.
Farmers markets generally don’t have ATMs, and farmers typically don’t accept credit cards or checks.

7. Don’t avoid ugly veggies.
Americans are accustomed to grocery-store produce that may be treated with dyes or other methods to enhance color and appearance. Local farm produce often isn’t as pretty. “My homegrown tomato may not look beautiful, but it’s going to taste good,” says Dwight Carpenter, owner of Carpenter’s Greenhouse in Allen, who sells his organic produce at the markets in Northville and Ann Arbor. “The color or the looks of the fruit are not as important as the fact that it’s homegrown.”

8. Think twice before attempting to bargain.
“These guys get up at 1:30 or 2:30 in the morning, drive two hours to get to the stalls and work through all sorts of conditions,” Vutetakis says. “These are some of the hardest-working people I know. I find that by becoming a regular you’ll get more bargains. When you show some dedication to them, they’ll dedicate to you.”

9. Comparison shop.
Bargaining may be bad etiquette, but doing a market once-over before buying is just smart shopping. Vendors compete with one another on price.

10. Get to know the farmer.
Customer loyalty not only brings bargains or an extra piece of fruit tossed in with your purchase, it also builds relationships with the people growing the food you’re about to eat. And you’ll learn more about that food in the process.  “There’s a guy who sells melons at the [Oakland] county farmers market,” says Gina Torielli, a law professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School and market regular. “If you ask for a melon, he’ll say, ‘Are you going to eat it today, tomorrow, or next week?’ And he’ll select the one that’s the right amount of ripeness. Don’t be shy about asking them about what you need. Go when it’s not busy and talk to them.”

11. Consider making it a family outing.
The Royal Oak Farmers Market offers live music on Saturdays and regular cooking demonstrations. Birmingham’s market is “a happening,” Torielli says, with entertainment and features like a man making organic waffles. Many markets have children’s activities.

12. think outside the salad bowl.
Markets also can be a good source for handmade objects, from wreaths to twig furniture, jewelry to vases. The availability of creative wares makes  markets a smart place to buy home furnishings and gifts.

13. Know that all markets are not created equal.
Many farmers markets, such as those in Royal Oak and northwest Detroit, are grower-only. That means all the items for sale were grown or made by the person selling them. Other markets, like Eastern Market, include wholesalers, who may have bought the produce from outside the state. Their prices will be lower, but the quality of their produce may also be, too. “The local grower can’t compete on price point with agribusiness,” says Pam Weinstein, master of the three-year-old Northwest Detroit Farmers Market. “I really discourage people from thinking that the reason to go to a farmers market is to save money. Come because you want food that tastes like what it’s supposed to taste like.”