Nestled in-between the metal train tracks and dusty Bank Street lies the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market, a bustling square of vendor stalls, each boasting local wares unique to Kalamazoo. The aroma of sausage and onions frying in grease hits first, followed by the bitter scent of freshly brewed coffee and the earthen smell of wet dirt clinging to raw vegetables. Live music, courtesy of the band Kalamazoo Folklife, twangs behind the clamor of bartering and the squeals of children playing in the central courtyard.
K College students with free time and spare cash can mosey down to Bank Street every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. during May through November. For those deterred by the forty minute walk, K’s Just Food Collective (JFC), provides van transportation to the market that leaves from Red Square at 12:15 Saturday mornings.
“The farmers market is pretty much the best place in Kalamazoo to buy affordable, local, whole foods, that can be hard for students on a budget to come by,” said Mimi Strauss, K’17, the Civic Engagement Scholar for JFC. The group began providing transportation last Spring to increase student’s access to locally produced foods.
The Kalamazoo Farmers Market, organized through the People’s Food Co-Op, features over 100 local businesses weekly. The vendors include regional farmers, a diverse fleet of food trucks, and local, and artisanal businesses unique to the Kalamazoo area.
Despite the high quality of local products, the cost is quite low for bargain-hunters.
Local Sarkozy Bakery offers crusty, homemade breads for as little as $4.00 per small loaf. Bilberry Jams and Jellies sells jewel-colored jams of deep purple, bright maroon, and dusty orange made “just like your Grandma did” for only $6.00. Commonly used produce is often sold by the pound, such as the $4.99 per pound of locally grown, purple asparagus. As there are many produce vendors at the market, a quick walk around the stalls is all it takes to procure the best deals.
The People’s Food Co-Op website is a valuable tool for Market first-timers and veterans alike. It describes tips for buying produce in-season, crafting a sustainable and nutritious diet, and turning the raw, whole foods into delicious meals.
In an effort to make local produce affordable for all, the Market works with programs like SNAP benefits and Double Up Food Bucks, providing food assistance to low-income individuals and families in the community.
The Market also offers many homemade handicrafts, such as Handmade Kalamazoo, a local business selling T-shirts with unique graphics promoting Kalamazoo pride. Slogans like “born & raised Kalamazoo” and “mad mitten love” speckle the colorful shirts tied to the eaves of their booth. “Our common ground is where we’re from, we’re staring there,” wrote the retailers on the Farmers Market website.
The Farmers Market is a space for community connection and engagement, providing students and community members a space to interact with local food producers and businesses, said Strauss.
“Students can actually have the opportunity to talk to farmers and have conversations about where their food comes from and what it takes to make it,” said Strauss. “These conversations are crucial and they can be easy to have, but it’s just a matter of getting to the market.”