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Eastern Market Farm Stand

Detroit, Michigan

Fiona Ruddy

By Amy Kuras
April 11, 2014

Few places in Detroit are as universally beloved as Eastern Market. It's the first place many of us take out-of-town friends and where locals go to feel a part of Detroit, whether they are loading up the SUV for a day trip in from the exurbs or biking over on the Dequindre Cut.
Since the Detroit Eastern Market Corporation took over the market in 2006, there's been a ton of changes and even the biggest grouch would be hard-pressed to call them anything but good. Newly renovated sheds are airy, open and full of vendors of everything from artisanal cheeses and exotic vegetables to giant boxes of mangoes and bags of spring mix lettuce for rock-bottom prices. At the same time old favorites are still there, selling to the children of couples who went on dates to the market decades ago.
Eastern Market is increasingly becoming a destination other days of the week than Saturday, with a wildly popular Tuesday market delivering a more relaxed, varied experience than the hectic crush of humanity that is Market Saturdays. It's also spreading its influence beyond the century-old site at Russell and Gratiot, with "veggie vans" loaded with produce and knowledgeable Fresh Food Fellows plying the neighborhoods, and a network of Detroit Community Markets drawing on Eastern Market's expertise to meet needs in their own backyards.
Those things are the work of Fiona Ruddy, Eastern Market's Director of Food Access, who helped launch them and has shepherded their blossoming. Ruddy went to the University of Michigan and worked at Zingerman's Deli while she was in school, which gave her a whole new perspective on food and how it could fit in to her passion for human rights and social justice. She thought that work would likely take her to one of the coasts, until she stumbled across the job posting at Eastern Market. She got there just as Eastern Market President Dan Carmody was launching the Farm Stand program and hoping to expand to serve to community in other ways. "I kind of washed ashore at the right moment," Ruddy says.
She sees food – growing it, talking about it, making it more accessible to everyone -- as key to overcoming many of the injustices stacked against people in the city. "Food is a way people can approach rights issues in a tangible and instructive way," she says.
Serious stuff – but Tuesday markets feel like anything but a dry learning experience. They are, well, fun. There are Zumba classes, yoga classes, and cooking demonstrations. Families who qualify for food assistance can participate in programs like Double Up Food Bucks, which allows them to purchase twice the amount of produce they typically could for their money. The Detroit Lions have partnered with the Market on a Meet Up and Eat Up summer food program at the Tuesday market. Kids can come and get a meal and meet a current or former Lions player, who will talk about healthy eating and exercise. On some weeks, the Detroit Public Library Bookmobile is there, lending out books and promoting literacy.
It's a mellower vibe than the Saturday markets, and it’s drawing different shoppers, Ruddy says. "It’s really charming and a lot more manageable than the Saturday market," she says. For example, Gleaners now buses in seniors from an East Side complex would find that Saturday market too overwhelming but Tuesdays are just their speed.
Eastern Market is a destination, but it isn’t always easy to access. While the "food desert" hype in Detroit is a bit overblown, it's hard to get quality, affordable produce when you don’t have a grocery store in your neighborhood or a car to get to one somewhere else. That's where the "veggie vans" – pop-up mobile farmer's markets -- come in. They go out to 18 locations per week throughout the city, from the last week of June to the first week of October, toting the best of what's available at the wholesale markets that operate at Eastern Market all week long. Fresh Food Fellows talk with people about the vegetables and fruits they're checking out – not so much about micronutrients and other science-class facts, but about who grew the food, where it came from and how to best cook and eat it. "Dan Carmody figured not everyone can get to Eastern Market, so we need to take Eastern Market to them," she says.
She also organizes Eastern Market's participation in Detroit Community Markets, a collection of five small farmer's markets spread throughout the city, started by community groups to address a variety of neighborhood needs. Grandmont Rosedale's Farmer's Market, for example, was started as a community amenity for the middle-class Northwest side neighborhood; the one in North End was created as a way to employ the neighbors, while the CHASS Mercado in Southwest Detroit wanted to reduce health disparities among neighborhood residents.
"People are touching on the issue of food in different ways by running these retail food programs," she says.  "It's taking one little bite out of the proverbial elephant, but it's something we could do." 

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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Related Resources

  • Eastern Market Corporation
    The mission of the Eastern Market Corporation is to mobilize leadership and resources to achieve stakeholders vision for the Eastern Market District and make the Eastern Market the undisputed center for fresh and nutritious food in southeast Michigan.