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Apr 29, 2012 08:34 AM

Prepared Food at Farmers Markets [DTW & metro]

I've noticed, over the last few years, that farmers markets are tending to have a greater and greater presence of prepared food vendors, with fewer actual *farmers* selling the produce, eggs, meat, and flowers they've grown. A few examples:

Two weekends ago, the Royal Oak farmers market had only 2 or 3 vendors selling produce, 1 selling meat and eggs, 2-3 selling flowers, and every other stall was occupied by a prepared food vendor.

The Clawson farmers market is notorious for having 1 or 2 vendors selling produce they haven't even grown (e.g. cauliflower in July, lemons that have "Florida" stickers on them), amongst 12-15 craft or prepared food vendors.

Yesterday, at Eastern Market, Shed 1 had just a handful of produce vendors near the south entrance, and the rest of the shed was occupied with prepared food vendors and the El Guapo truck. El Guapo had a massive line--before 10:00 AM, no less!--as did all the prepared food vendors. Sheds 2-5, which were almost all farm/produce/flower vendors, were nowhere near as busy as Shed 1. I saw dozens of people walking around not buying ANY produce, but only the prepared food and taco truck food.

Has anyone else noticed this trend? Does anyone have an opinion on it? I don't want to muddy the water with my own thoughts before anyone else has a chance to respond.

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  1. Hi jjspw, I go for the local produce and frozen meats (though I admit to sometimes getting suckered by some preserved veggies/fruits). In absolute terms, I haven't noticed fewer of these offerings over the last several years, and it is too early for me to tell for this year, given we are still in April--you could probably pull the committed vendor list from the websites and do a numerical analysis...or you could just say you did and I would believe you. I HAVE noticed more of the other fluff you note. That probably helps bring in bigger crowds, and should encourage healthier produce sales, thereby encouraging future small farming, too. Hurray!

    This being said, the crowds/cars at R.O.F.M. totally frustrate me (swear words withheld), and the fluff interspersed between the good stands just causes me to have to wade even further thru the crowd to get to the good stuff. Crowds at Eastern Market don't get on my nerves as much, for some reason. Maybe it is because I enjoy seeing Detroiters mix with suburbanites. I don't know.

    I have eaten from a food truck only once in the last couple years since this craze gained momentum. I like the idea of altenatives* to brick and mortar places. But, the hype is getting so (profanity deleted, again) stupid that I now avoid these trucks just on principle and out of embarrassment.
    *One thing I love in Asia is when "vendors" set up a few practically-kids-sized plastic chairs and tables, and a hibachi or a propane burner, in a wide part of the sidewalk. That's mobile food I can still get behind (not that people haven't gotten sick from that, but...).

    4 Replies
    1. re: VTB

      I haven't been to Eastern Market in about a month due to work and teaching issues falling on Saturdays, so my last view was still in winter when there were no local veggies - some imported produce, local coffee/meat/cellared apples/etc and yes, prepared food.

      Haven't been to ROFM for similar reasons but I agree that I'm seeing more pasta, soups, scones, whatever at the markets. Makes me appreciate the times I go to the Oakland Co/Pontiac market where it really is about 99-99% produce/meat/etc with maybe 2 food vendors (hot dogs or tamales).

      I tend to view the prepped stuff and soaps as fluff as well, though I'm sure it brings in the crowds. Certainly gets folks to the Birmingham market and hopefully keeps them there long enough to buy veggies or eggs as well.

      1. re: HillsofBeverly

        this is the exact reason that i don't even goto ROFM. I live within walking distance, was never that impressed with prices or goods (collusion at its finest). I went a few times last july/august. Could never find heirloom tomatoes. I gave up.

        The whole point of farmers markets is that they are supposed to have either
        1. Cheaper produce due to lack of middlemen
        2. More varied/rare produce due to smaller batches giving farmers flexibility.
        3. Better produce because of the care that smaller farms can give to their goods

        I wish I had more time exploring the eastern market area. People keep bringing up great artisanal shops, and I know nothing about the area. Anyone want to organize a trip and I'd love to tag along and discover some hidden gems.

        1. re: gan911

          "I wish I had more time exploring the eastern market area. People keep bringing up great artisanal shops, and I know nothing about the area." -- I feel the same. I have only ever gone for the market itself, but never to any of the food shops or butchers on the adjacent blocks. No idea how much is even there to be had!

          1. re: jjspw

            Definitely check out the butchers, plus Gratiot Central Market for meat. A very cool vibe in the area when the weather's decent.

    2. The Rochester farmers' market has few prepared foods, mostly produce and fresh eggs. They do have a great harvest bread co. stand, which shouldn't be allowed IMO since it's a chain, but it's pretty legit.

      2 Replies
      1. re: IndyGirl

        I agree with you IndyGirl about the Rochester market. Five or six years ago they were trying to figure out which way to go and asked the customer's what they wanted in a market. I'm pretty sure the majority didn't want crafts, etc.. so they have done a nice job of keeping that type of stuff out. I also don't like that they allow Great Harvest as they have a local bakery that sells there...can't remember the name. He has been since the market started and has good baked goods.
        It opens Saturday, so we'll see who got in this year.

        1. re: grouper

          can't wait!!! Give thanks and home bakeries are both walking distance, so I wish GH would go away. But in general, I love the market.

      2. Eastern Market is not a farmers' market, but rather a Public Market. Market President Dan Carmody made rather a big issue of that in some recent interview, maybe the one with Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre Foods.

        Per their stall rental application for the 2012-2013 season:

        "Eastern Market’s preference is (1) Growers selling their own product, (2) Vendors selling locally grown product, (3) Vendors selling fresh and wholesome product regardless of source, (4) Specialty/prepared products made from the first three sources."

        Here's a copy of the email Market VP Randy Fogelman sent out to potential specialty vendors.

        Most of the time I go for specialty items (Corridor Sausage among a few others) and Rising Pheasant's sunflower shoots if I want them that week. I find I can get most of my other produce fresher and cheaper from Al Haramain, Randazzo's, Aldi, Seven Seas, Kim Nhung and a few others. I do buy broccoli and winter squash from Kaltz farm when they have them. I don't care much about organic, which probably influences my indifference about sources. On the other hand the boxes of greens I regularly pick up from Costco do happen to be organic.

        1. I think VTB and Hills might be right in saying that there's more "fluff", but not necessarily fewer farmers/produce. Perhaps the additional fluff is simply making my mind think there are fewer farmers. And Hills, I think you're on the money when you say that the fluff draws more people in. That's definitely what I noticed at Eastern last weekend: lots of 20s-30s couples buying prepared food, and browsing but not buying produce--I guess it's the set of people who either don't know how to cook, or are too lazy to cook, but go to farmers markets because it's the cool thing to do.

          Gan, your reasons for going to farmers markets are mine exactly. And indeed, ROFM almost always fails to deliver. A dozen eggs there is always at least $1 more than at Eastern.

          IndyGirl and grouper, thanks for bringing up the Rochester market. I've actually never been, even though it's closer than Eastern. So I'm definitely going to check it out this season!

          ak994, thanks for posting the letter to potential specialty food vendors. Interesting to note Eastern Market's priority for accepting vendor applications. And most likely, since it's still quite early in the growing season, many of the produce vendors aren't setting up at Eastern yet. In the coming months, there will probably be more of them, which will give a more typical produce:prepared ratio.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jjspw

            It's nice to know that I'm not the only one turned off by the prices at royal oak.

            Remember-Vang Family farms and the Greening of Detroit will be showing up soon at Eastern. Vang is one of my favorite stands at eastern!

            PS-As long as eastern market gets vendors as good as Corridor sausage-i'm for more vendors. And the rebuilding of the old Hirt's is coming along!

          2. I hate to say this....but are you really asking this question in April of 2012 in Michigan? Be happy the Markets are open at all with local prepared food. If this is a problem in July I would say it is worth looking into. As for Eastern Market....yes it is a public market, know who you buy from and if you buy one damn bit of produce from Eastern Market that has a bar code on get what you deserve. I would like to see us talk about who at Eastern Market can be trusted with great product.

            1. Corridor Sausage
            2. Melo Farms
            3. The group selling greens from Corktown.

            I mostly visit Ann Arbor's Farmers Market which also has some great foods.

            1 Reply
            1. re: JanPrimus

              I would like to see us talk about who at Eastern Market can be trusted with great product.

              2. Melo Farms

              I had the chance to meet Lynn and Melody a couple of weeks ago. I picked up a jowl, some belly, and shank. The shank went into a pot of beans, the jowl and belly are in a cure. Eventually the jowl will get air dried and I am not sure if I am going to smoke the belly or use it straight out of the cure. Lynn and Melody are friendly, knowledgeable, and are definitely passionate about their product. I'll be back for sure.