Oakland County Farmers' Market is Better than Ever
The Oakland County Farmers’ Market might qualify as a best-kept secret, but the team running it is working hard to change that.
Founded in Pontiac in 1922, the market has been at its current location in Waterford, across from the county complex, since 1953. In 2012 it came under the umbrella of Oakland County Parks and Recreation and for the last five years it’s been managed by Jeremy Brown, assistant park supervisor at Waterford Oaks County Park. He has two seasonal assistant managers; all three are certified market managers.
The market is a producer-only market, with about 100 vendors coming from 17 Michigan counties and Ohio. “We have vendors who’ve been coming since the Pontiac days,” Brown says. Others have been here since the 1970s and ’80s. But since then, “farmers’ markets have evolved. It’s not just a place to buy produce.”
The market features basic, no-frills indoor and outdoor stalls surrounded by parking. May through December, the market is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On Saturdays in season, it’s filled to capacity with vendors selling plants, cut flowers, fruit and vegetables, herbs, eggs, maple syrup, honey, jam, mushrooms, crafts and homemade foods. January through April, the market is open only on Saturdays.
Under its current management, the site has been given a general sprucing up. Amenities such as benches, flower pots and a food truck (offering breakfast and lunch) have been added. Many free activities have also been added so that on any given Saturday, spring to fall, visitors might find a master gardener, health and nutrition expert, local chef with seasonal cooking advice, 4-H activities for kids, conservation programs and even blood-pressure checks. There are also special monthly events, including food-truck rallies, a corn roast, a wine/food/jazz evening and a movie night.
At first, Brown admits, there was a bit of skepticism among longtime vendors about all this new activity. “Some of the farmers thought we were turning it into a circus,” he says. “Change is hard.”
Melissa Renner is not one of them. She handles farmers’ markets for Prielipp Farms & Greenhouse in Britton, Michigan, and says it’s now her favorite market to attend. Prielipp Farms has been a vendor at the county market since 1975 and is its largest vendor, selling everything from perennials to produce to Christmas greens over the course of a year. The farm also sells at the Northville, Plymouth and Jackson markets, as well as Eastern Market.
“Oakland County is definitely my favorite,” Renner says, adding that the improvements are noticeable and all the activities are bringing people in. “Before, nothing was done to bring traffic into the market,” she says. “It’s fun to come to market now.”
Renner says she has longtime regular customers she has gotten to know. But with the special events, “People come to the market who never knew there was a market there before.” The market is big enough to provide shoppers with choices. “I think it’s a good mix,” she says. “We always welcome competition. From being there 40 years, people know to come and see us.”
Although non-farm vendors are welcome, Brown says he gives priority to farmers. “We feel farmers have a perishable item that must be brought to market, so we give them preference,” he says. During the winter, the producer-only rule is relaxed.
Work is under way on a master plan with hopes of adding more parking and another pavilion to the market. Adding a commercial kitchen on site “is always at the back of our mind,” Brown says, but there are no plans to relocate the market to make room for one.
The market accepts food and nutrition benefits such as WIC coupons, senior market fresh coupons, Double Up Food Bucks and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP).
“That was something parks wanted to initiate,” Brown says. The market is accessible by SMART bus; look for the sunflower icon.
All the new activity has boosted sales, and farmers who at first might have been skeptical of the changes are now seeing the benefits. “They’re taking a vested interest in it, trying to help us,” Brown says. Vendors have donated plants for the grounds and produce for nutrition programs. For the annual corn roast, vendors donate corn, the food truck cooks it and volunteers serve it.
“We’ve come a long way in five years,” Brown says. “I feel like we’re really on sound footing.”
Despite all the bells and whistles, Brown says the market still strives to support local farmers, their families, local jobs and knowing where food comes from. “It’s knowing who grows your food. I say this all the time: ‘Do Brian’s potatoes taste better, or do they taste better because I know Brian?’ I would encourage people to come out and meet your farmer, get to know him.”
Check out this video!
Find out more at Oakland County Farmers’ Market