Farmers, artisans market idea creates excitement

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | Farmington Press | Published November 16, 2016

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KEEGO HARBOR — Could a farmers and artisans market be in Keego Harbor’s future? 

The idea is growing rapidly.

Jean Smith, who is the current Dodge Park Farmers Market manager in Sterling Heights, and Michele Goldman approached the Keego Harbor City Council Oct. 20 to discuss implementing a market that would be backed by the city. 

Smith’s credentials also include initiating the winter farmers market in Farmington, which is now in its eighth season, and both Smith and Goldman are certified with the Michigan Farmers Market Association.

Markets not only bring people together for a community activity — they also support local farmers, producers and artisans. They encourage healthy eating and eating habits, as well as economic viability, Smith said. 

Smith said they would like to start with a market that has 10-15 vendors per week during the market season, which is important because they want to maintain an 80:20 market ratio of consumable and nonconsumable goods. 

By the market’s third year the goal would be to increase to 20-30 vendors, and by year five, 30 vendors. But, she stressed, they would still maintain the 80:20 ratio.

Consumable goods, Smith explained, are goods that people come back for each week; nonconsumable goods would be the artisan vendors’ wares — baskets, artwork, etc. — which are impulse purchases, but add “such a benefit to the local community as well as to entrepreneurs.”

Smith said the market would also incorporate alternative forms of payment, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Project FRESH, Michigan’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program. 

“Markets that incorporate these types of additional payment options for customers, the sales do increase for vendors,” Smith said. 

Smith said she would invite local chefs to participate in cooking demonstrations and local hospitals to offer blood pressure screenings. She also likes to offer children’s programming, like pie eating contests and trick-or-treating. 

By year three, the goal would be to also maintain consistent foot traffic of 1,000-plus individuals, which Smith said is essential for a profitable market. Traffic would be maintained through promoting the market via signs and social media.
“If the foot traffic does not sustain that, what happens is vendors will tend to drop out,” she explained.

Now is the time to start the market because there are steps — creating documents, setting up alternative payment options, recruiting vendors and volunteers, purchasing supplies and equipment, and finding a location for the market — that have to be taken into consideration before opening day, Smith said.

Keego Harbor resident Eric Gubka said he thinks the market is a great idea.

“Maybe if the council would deem putting a steering committee with one of your representatives to work with these people … with your blessing, that would be cool,” Gubka said to the council.

Councilman Joel Yoder asked the women what they need of the city, and Smith said that while they would seek corporate sponsorship, she and Goldman were requesting the city “be our head.”

“I normally made a living betting on people, and you’ve presented a very nice business model … so that could make it a lot easier, and I believe this community is ripe for something like that,” Councilman Sid Rubin said. 

But before any type of budget proposal can be done, Smith said they would first need to secure a location that would fit up to 30 vendors, provide parking and have access to bathrooms. 

“We have come up (with) kind of a tentative or budget expense, but it’s really difficult with not knowing. But I would say anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 to start,” Smiths said about the cost to the city.

That cost would include Smith and Goldman’s salaries, equipment and marketing. They said the first year is the most expensive due to purchasing equipment. 

“Do they pay for themselves after a period of time?” Yoder asked. 

“Vendor fees would be an income source for the city. Corporate sponsorship goes to the city to fund the market, too,” Smith said, adding that vendor fees could be $15-$25 per market day.

Goldman said there are farmers market grants available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture; however, the market would have to be an established one.

“Once you can prove and they can see it’s a viable market … then that grant money is more readily available,” Goldman said.

Because of the lack of Sunday markets in the area, Goldman also said they were considering having Keego Harbor’s market on a Sunday.

City Attorney Thomas Ryan suggested that the women meet with the Planning Commission to talk about a location. Once a location is proposed, the city could move forward on a decision for a market.

“The only thing I’d say is we’re really close to the county farmers market (in Waterford), so is that going to be a problem?” Ryan asked. 

“Even if people are going to Eastern Market or Oakland County market, if a community has its own market, many people are more likely to support its local market. I don’t think it’s an impossibility,” Smith said.

Councilman Rob Kalman said Goldman approached him about a farmers market in Keego Harbor over a year ago, and when he posted the idea on the city’s Facebook page, which he runs, there was “extensive interest.” 

“I think the interest and enthusiasm leads me to believe there would be a lot of people who would support this. I think it’s a great community development tool,” Kalman said. 

However, Kalman also said the cost to the city is a “decent-size ask,” and there will be some deeper discussion in the future about how the city could front the money. 

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