Lathrup VillageAugust 2, 2012
Lathrup Farmers Market aims for fresh food for all
By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer
LATHRUP VILLAGE — Trying to capture an estimated 50,000 people who drive along the stretch of Southfield Road between 11 Mile and 12 Mile each day, the Lathrup Village Farmers Market plans to become a neighborhood grocer of sorts — one with a mission.
For the second year, the weekly market takes place on grounds of the Municipal Park on Wednesday afternoons. But it’s not just meant for the 1,600 households that make up Lathrup Village — the city and vendors hope to reach all across Oakland County.
“We realize we are a baby market. Are we going to walk out with $1,500 in our pockets every Wednesday? Not yet. But we see the need and love the people here,” said Maralee Rosemond, who oversees Lathrup Village recreation as a “one-woman department.”
“We had a successful first year, and this year is even busier, with more traffic.”
Rosemond said the market was a dream of Lathrup Village Mayor Frank Brock, who was brought up on a farm and envisioned a market in the city.
It wasn’t until plans were well under way that Rosemond said the absolute need for a community farmers market became clear, however.
“I didn’t know anything about farmers markets. I’ve ran community events, but this is a whole different beat,” explained Rosemond, who studied at Michigan State University just to be trained for running the market. “That (training) ended up being one of the best programs I’ve ever participated in. I loved how it was a real grass-roots, local and fresh focus.”
Rosemond said that “the lights came on” for her about the importance of knowing where food comes from and the value of fresh produce. It was that kind of understanding that ensured the city would offer the market as a service, not just another event.
While there are several farmers markets in surrounding communities, Southfield-area residents faced a huge hit with the loss of the city market last year. With one local market down and only a select few farmers markets targeting local low-income communities, Rosemond is setting her sights on offering fresh, Michigan-grown produce and making it accessible to people of all income levels.
“We may live in Oakland County and it may be affluent in many areas, but there are still low-income families and still seniors with fixed incomes, even if they live in Lathrup Village or Birmingham. There’s still young mothers who don’t have the money to eat healthy,” she said. “Everyone needs access to fresh foods.”
Rosemond hopes to see not just one or two, but all of the Lathrup Village vendors — currently there are 10 — accepting assistance programs like EBT or Project Fresh next year.
EBT, or electronic benefit transfer, is the electronic system that allows such benefit programs as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps, to be accessible via a debit card. Project Fresh is a coupon program that helps senior citizens get Michigan-grown produce from local farmers markets.
“We will ask all of our participating vendors to accept these forms of payment. They just need to register, and the city will run the card. We’ll start off with EBT, Project Fresh and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children, a food assistance program for mothers and young children) and down the road, if we qualify, we’ll start other programs, like Double Up Food Bucks,” she said of the incentive program that doubles the value of SNAP benefits when used for locally grown and healthy foods.
She added that they hope to erase some of the stigma that comes with using assistance programs by putting signs up so customers don’t have to verbally inquire whether alternative forms of payment are accepted or feel embarrassed to bring it up.
“If we can offer this to the community, I think we are doing a great thing. We are centrally located, about 10 minutes from anywhere, and we want people to know that this particular farmers market will meet those needs.”
Next year, equipped with a card machine for registered vendors, the market will join the ranks of about 55 other Michigan markets accepting SNAP. According to the Fair Food Network, SNAP sales — in part stimulated by the Double Up program — reached more than $1.1 million last year.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, Michigan has one of the highest food stamp/SNAP participation rates in the country. Figures show that more than 1.8 million people — an all-time high — qualified for and received SNAP benefits as of June 2010.
That number is up 40 percent from July 2008.
For now, Sharkar Farms, a fourth-generation farming family in China, Mich., is the sole vendor accepting any assistance program at the Lathrup Village Farmers Market.
Sharkar Farms owner Sharon Ostrowski said she’s seen the need for fresh foods that are free of genetically modified organisms to resurface as healthy meal options all of her life. Her father started accepting food stamps when the program first began in the ‘60s, and in some cities’ markets she takes part in, a huge part of her customer base is made up of people using assistance programs.
“We bring in $100 a day in Port Huron just in EBT,” she said. “Southfield had a large number of shoppers using EBT, and we’d be happy to pull the EBT customer base here. They were so excited to have it and get fresh produce, and we were excited to have them.”
At Sharkar Farms alone, hundreds of types of fresh vegetables are sold, with dozens of varieties of each kind of vegetable.
“People have forgotten what they can do with fresh produce,” Ostrowski said, adding that she’d like to take them back to the benefits of home-grown foods, like the kind that come from her 15-acre family farm.
She’d like to see Lathrup Village succeed at meeting the community’s needs and hopes other vendors are as eager to join in. With the setup Lathrup Village offers, such as using a phone line to process EBT cards, there will be no expenses to the vendors to participate.
Ostrowski and Rosemond say spreading the message is the first step.
“We know there is a need here,” Rosemond said. “We just have to get the word out.”
The Lathrup Village Farmers Market runs 2-7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sept. 30. Participating vendors include Ginn Farms, Vic The Bread Man, Hogwild Smoked Sausage & More, Marsh Greenhouse and Gardens, Helping Operations for People Empowerment, Mirror Lake Organics, Liberty School Butterfly Farm & Gardens, Sharkar Farms, Scott-Tish Bee Honey and Mystic Kettle Korn.
For more information, visit www.lathrupvillage.org.
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