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Guest viewpoint: Anissa Howard



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October 19, 2011 - The Clarkston Farmers' Market team, comprised of 18+ local residents and growers from the area, would like to extend our appreciation to the residents in and around Clarkston, for coming down and supporting our local growers and artists!

We also extend our gratitude to Bob Roth and Ed Adler for their generosity in offering the Clarkston Farmers' Market the use of their vacant downtown parking lot on Saturday mornings – it's been a joyful endeavor – thank you both very much. Thank you also to Café Brioni (who brewed our delicious coffee early each Saturday morning), Clarkston Union and Union General, The Woodshop, Essence on Main, Rudy's Market, Kinetic Systems, Oxford Bank, The Clarkston News, The Village of Clarkston, the Chamber of Commerce, the 1000+ townspeople, and the dedicated team of volunteers and vendors, who continue to support the growth of this important component of our town.

We have a very special farmers' market that is alive and well in Clarkston. At the last farmers' market, there were over 1,200 people in attendance and perhaps 200 of those people making the same inquiry of me about the state of the market. We are working hard to guide and protect this market as it grows; protect it from turning into a wholesale market that overcharges farmers.

In the early summer of 2012, the Clarkston Farmers' Market will be moving across town to an open space connected with Community Education. We are excited about this new possibility, which brings a balance to the workings of the Farmers' Market and will allow it to grow in size and diversity. A few people have expressed worry that a re-location may not be as aesthetically pleasing as what we're accustomed to on Ed and Bob's parking lot. Others have strong feelings that the market should be downtown. There are opinions that stretch the entire spectrum. The market does, we agree, look quite beautiful set on the current site. However many have noted that the river is in need of some help, and the concrete under our feet is changing year by year. The Yin and Yang of concrete and river is evidenced by an ever-changing uneven and broken walkway. The specific dynamics that surround our move are difficult to relay and we don't want to risk upsetting people, but it is safe to say we cannot afford to run the farmers' market on this downtown site any longer. Still, we have managed to create a thriving market there on that riverside property, until now.

People come down to the Clarkston Farmers' Market that we have put together and comment often on how different it is from other markets, how it feels genuine.

One community member spoke, "It's because of the people who are gathered together and what they represent, that make this market so different from other farmers' markets – it's not the site we all come for."

People ask us for longer hours all the time, and we have filled all the usable space on this downtown lot. We're poised for a transition. It's time for a crop rotation - just as corn cannot flourish on the same plot of land year after year after year, and must be rotated - so we are rotating our market onto a neighboring plot of soil.

We are cheered by the dedication of our growers, volunteers, community members and the invitation by Community Ed. Our farmers' market has a strong vendor base and a strong community base as well. We know the Clarkston Farmers' Market is a people's market - it really belongs to all of us, not one private entity. There are well over a thousand people to consider each Saturday that enjoy using the market to find local, organic foods, support our farmers and our work in organizing it each week. The market maintains a great integrity both in people and spirit.

Staged on the new site in front of the Community Education Building on Waldon Road, the move may offer the market its best chance yet at full-bloom. There is ample space that is flat and safe for walkers, strollers and wheelchairs. There are indoor bathrooms and plenty of parking. Our town is small and the new site is a 6-minute walk (30 second drive) from Main Street. We are excited and pleased to be holding the market on such a community-minded site. We hope you will be, too.

The following is some general information about farmers' markets with respect to our Clarkston Farmers' Market that, if you want to keep reading, you might enjoy.

The politics of food and farmers' markets in general have gained consistent national attention over the past 10 years and it's not stopping in 2011. Farmers' Markets across the US have tripled in number since 2005. More and more people are making choices to align with the growers of their food, and to eat what is grown in their local area during its native growing season.

Michigan happens to be second only to California in the varieties of fruits and vegetables that can grow abundantly in these zones. Our market is attracting growers who will plant and grow the kinds of foods you request. Edible landscaping is replacing non-native vegetation and there are more small-scale, permaculture-minded farms popping up each year that hold the philosophy of connecting their sales directly with their customers and so, directly with their own two hands and the land. Micro-Eco Farming is becoming possible with more farmers' markets as outlets. If the local growers at a farmers' market can supply the local residents and restaurants with food, this is very good news for a town in which this kind of market resides.

If however, the relationship between money and generosity and support fall out of balance with the market integrity, often a town either may lose its farmers' market entirely, or end up with a market charging high fees and selling second-sale, out-of-state goods to unaware customers in the name of 'locally-grown' or 'organic'. We are not interested in moving in this direction. The challenge for farmers' markets now is to survive within the politics of small towns, and to keep their collection of growers and artists, true to the locally-grown model.

Our core values are two-fold: first, to attract and serve local growers and artists and to match them with residents who want locally grown organic goods. Second, to run a self-sufficient farmers' market while keeping the vendor fees low. In this move, we hope to be able to align even more closely with these values.

Anissa Howard is the founder and director of Clarkston Farmers' Market. For more information, check LocalHarvest.com or call 248-821-4769.

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