TRAVERSE CITY — The Village at Grand Traverse Commons Farmer’s Market is celebrating its fifth year of providing local products to the Grand Traverse area this year.

Diana and Richard Jelenek of Spring Hollow Farm began working with Mini Minervini from the Minervini Group, LLC, five years ago to start an indoor farm market, the first of its kind at the time. Since the market’s first year, the number of vendors has risen from three to more than 40.

This winter, the local products presented at vendors’ booths include fresh-baked specialty breads and other baked goodies; fruit preserves, chutneys, chips and fruit leather; maple syrup; honey bee waxes and candles; raw pollen and honey; freshly picked leafy greens; cellar veggies; dried tomatoes, beets, and mushrooms; handmade chicken sausages; chocolates; delicious specialty cheeses and smoked butter.

Providing year-round products at the farmer’s market is challenging for vendors, especially those who make the majority of their sales on fresh produce during warmer months. Being creative and offering unique products is essential for successful sales throughout the year.

“[The vendors] try not to make too many baked goods,” said Diana Jelenek. “If all of us are selling the same thing, we are competing for customers and we don’t want to do that.”

Tricia Phelps, a manager of the farmer’s market who stepped in after Minervini, collaborates with the Jeleneks on regulating the kinds of products that are sold as well as organizing the farmer’s market’s special events such as the Edible Art Show coming up on March 8.

An additional challenge involves the overlap of festivals and the farmer’s market. Festivals that aim to stimulate economic activity in the Grand Traverse area have the opposite effect on farm market sales. One farmer estimated a two-thirds loss in sales on festival weekends compared with non-festival weekends. Vendors suspect that regular customers are either attending the festivals or avoiding the traffic in Traverse City on those weekends. The harsh winter may also be contributing to fewer customers.

Overall, The Village at Grand Traverse Farmer’s Market has been an economically successful outlet for the participating businesses.

“We keep the vendor’s costs low to encourage more vendors to participate and to continue providing diverse products that attract customers to the market,” says Phelps.

The market’s success has stimulated a strong sense of community among the farmers and farm representatives that extends to the market’s shoppers - many of whom are ‘regulars’ on a first-name basis with the vendors they buy from.

Meet your local farmers and sample delicious local products at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons Farmer’s Market every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Be sure to mark your calendar for the 5th Annual Edible Art Show that will be held during normal market hours on Saturday, March 8.

Bring $1 or a canned good to receive a ticket and participate in the judging of edible masterpieces.

Emily Pochubay is a fruit integrated pest management educator with MSU Extension.

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