All The Farm That Is Fit To Print

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fresh as it gets

Jess Piskor delivered a bushel of greens directly from his garden near Northport to the newly opened Northport Farmers Market Friday morning, and was feeling on top of the world.

“This kale is as fresh as it gets,” said Piskor. “And this is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done,” the 2004 University of Michigan graduate added.

Until recently, Piskor had been working at a popular delicatessen in Ann Arbor where, as he puts it, he “got into food and quality produce.”

“Growing and selling quality produce to your neighbors is about as satisfying as it gets,” he said. “Plus, I’m hoping we can keep my grandfather’s 40-acre farm in the family.”

Most of the farm is leased to cherry farmers. But Piskor’s 1.5-acre garden is keeping him and several of his friends and Ann Arbor “business partners” busy this summer. Farmers markets throughout Leelanau County are also bringing a little cash their way.

The farmers market season in Leelanau County is now well under way, with four of the five operations run by the Leelanau Farmers Market Association opening last week.

New this season is the Northport market, which opened Friday. Conducted outside The Depot next to the Northport Marina, the farm market will be open every Friday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. through Sept. 18.
The farmers market in Suttons Bay has been open since May 16.

Megan Gregory is the newly-hired “market master” for the Suttons Bay, Leland and Glen Arbor markets, which are open on Saturdays, Thursdays and Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. respectively.

With a marketing degree from the Traverse City campus of Davenport University, Gregory said she’s trying out a few new ideas this year to increase attendance at farmers markets. On Saturday, for example, she invited a local musician to play guitar and sing at the Suttons Bay market for tips.

On July 16, the Leland Farmers Market will host a tour for Learngreatfoods.com, an Illinois-based organization specializing in “agri-culinary” tours. The event will include a visit to the fish market in Leland as well as a local winery.

“The farm markets have been busy so far,” Gregory said, “even though some of the crops appear to be a little bit behind this year.”

Spring crops such as rhubarb and asparagus were still in abundance at local farm markets last week. Strawberries had been delayed by unusually cool weather earlier this spring, however.

“We had a few strawberries Saturday morning at Suttons Bay, but they sold out quickly,” Gregory said. “More of them will be coming in soon, I’m sure.”

The “market master” in Northport is longtime resident George Anderson, while Reuben Chapman heads the Empire market. Gregory, Anderson and Chapman all work for the board of the Leelanau Farmers Market Association, a non-profit organization that came into existence nine years ago through another organization called the Leelanau Agricultural Alliance, with the help of the Michigan State University Extension.

Leelanau County MSU Extension director Rob Sirrine said he believes the farmers markets are off to a good start this year and have a bright future ahead.

“More people are interested in purchasing local food and supporting local farmers,” Sirrine said.

And “local” is what farm markets are all about. Rules promulgated for Leelanau Farmers Markets specify that “all products must be grown or produced locally” with “local” being defined as “within 60 miles of the Leelanau County Farmers Market that the vendor is selling at.”

Vendors pay fees for setting up a stand at farmer’s markets – as little as an introductory fee of $5 for one day, or as much as $250 for a space at all five farm markets for the entire season.

Farmer Karen Drake of Cherry Beach Orchards in Suttons Bay said the farm markets mean a lot to the bottom line for some local farmers.

“We do all five farmers markets,” Drake said, “and, so far, we haven’t seen as many customers as we’d like. We’re hoping more locals will stop by the markets this summer for some really great deals, some really fine products, and to help support local agriculture.”

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