By Sue Moore
For those hungering for fresh vegetables and fruit grown nearby, the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market is aiming to please, opening its 2017 season on Friday, May 19 at the pavilion on N. Richardson Street.
Fresh asparagus, lettuce and spring peas are the most likely edibles to be found at the vendors’ tables in May, but it won’t be long before Michigan strawberries begin to appear. The market starts its fourth year in the pavilion, built with money donated through many members of the community who yearned for fresh fruit, vegetables and tantalizing baked goods, according to Stella Shearer, president of the market board.
For the first three years of the market’s existence, its home was the asphalt parking lot at the empty Bobby’s Restaurant on the corner of Richardson and North streets. There wasn’t room to expand the market and it needed a permanent location, Shearer explained. “It has become the community gathering place during the 21 weeks the market is open each year. Not only can people buy fresh food, it’s a place to connect with friends, where children can enjoy food by participating in Kids Plate once a month, and the vendors are super friendly.”
It has grown from about 15 vendors to over 50 in this year, with annual vendor incomes estimated at nearly $60,000. Farmers Market Coalition research shows that for every dollar spent at the farmers’ market an additional $1.36 is spent at local and nearby businesses. This means that well over $80,000 is added to the local economy for the greater Vicksburg community during the market season.
For five years, Generous Hands has been supporting the market with a cash infusion in the form of free coupons distributed to families in its backpack program. This was initially funded by a three-year-grant of $3,000 per season. For the last two years, the donations from Generous Hands’ autumn fundraiser have supported the coupon program at the market, with $2,952 in 2015 and $3,100 last year.
The Vicksburg market signed on in 2012 with the state’s Bridge card, the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program, WIC and Project Fresh. These programs also distribute hundreds of dollars to those shopping each week at the market. These benefits are available to those who qualify, applying at the market manager’s table in front of the pavilion and run by Carol Meyer-Niedzwiecki, the co-market manager.
Almost all of the familiar vendors will be back this year, with some new ones making application in time for the opening day. There will be a couple of surprises Meyer-Niedzwiecki said. Vendors are the heart of the market. Offerings include prepared food, baked goods, coffee, homemade soap and local meat. The weekly music that revs up the market has been a treat from the Kalamazoo Folk Life organization with June Kucks volunteering each week to schedule the entertainers.
A grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation was recently awarded to the nonprofit market board for strategic planning that included funding for a new website, Shearer said.