Grand Rapids Will Emphasize Local Foods With New Year-Round Market

April 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Photo courtesy of Downtown Market

The possibilities of eating local in West Michigan will get about 130,000 square feet better. Grand Rapids, about three hours from Chicago and a frequent stop on local brewery and food explorations in Michigan, is building an indoor/outdoor, year-round, seven-days-a-week market. Opening this summer, Downtown Market will emphasize local foods with an outdoor farmer’s market that will operate three days a week, and an indoor, year-round marketplace that will feature local food retailers, a commercial kitchen that will be an incubator for local food businesses, a rooftop greenhouse garden, a bakery, brewery, sit-down restaurant, and a hands-on teaching kitchen for kids. With a few exceptions for specialty products, the market will offer Michigan food.

When it’s finished, it will be the first LEED-certified market in the country. Even though it’s natural to compare this market to other year-round markets in the country, Mimi Fritz, the President/CEO of Downtown Market, said that it will be unlike any other market: 

“You will find markets around the country that have some/various aspects of what we have, but none of them have it all in one place. North Market in Columbus is probably closest to ours in [terms of the number] of indoor vendors, however, their outdoor market is only one day a week and ours is three. They have a demo/banquet room, but do not have a greenhouse, kid’s kitchen, incubator kitchen, restaurants, brewery, commercial office space, and are not LEED certified.”

Even though Grand Rapids already has a farmer’s market, the Fulton Street Market, Fritz said that Downtown Market will be “chock full of fresh local foods”, and will not have any arts and crafts products (which are currently allowed at the Fulton Street Market). Further demonstrating its commitment to local foods, Downtown Market’s Food and Farmers Advisory Committee includes farmers such as Casey Visser of Visser Farms, Karey Robinette of Robinette’s Orchards and Charles Ham of Ham Family Farm, among many others.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Market

The idea of the market took on reality in early 2009, when Grand Action, a privately-funded nonprofit that developed other major projects in Grand Rapids, commissioned a feasibility study by Market Ventures, Inc., a Portland, Maine-based urban planning and economic development firm that focuses on food-based projects. It concluded that Michigan’s abundant farm production, consumer demand and community could support a year-round market. By showcasing the farms and dairies that operate just outside the perimeter of the city, Grand Rapids hopes to capitalize on its unique food system that has enjoyed a steady tradition of growing and producing local foods. Even though Downtown Market is focusing on small-scale, micro-local producers, even mid-scale food producers in the area show some resistance to the infectious trend that has national companies scratching out regional brands through bankruptcy and buyouts. (For example, greater Grand Rapids is home to Hudsonville Ice Cream, a nearby mid-scale local ice cream producer that has been making ice cream since 1926, and The Koeze Company, which has been making Cream-Nut-brand peanut butter in Grand Rapids for over 80 years using vintage machinery.)

These grand plans were enough to grab the attention of the New York Times, which dedicated a lengthy feature on it last year, and wrote that the development of Downtown Market is a sign of West Michigan’s economic vitality, foothold in the local food movement, and arrival as a cultural destination.

Retailers are still signing on; most notably, Shelby Kilmer, the former, longtime baker at artisanal powerhouse Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, will open a bakery, Field & Fire. Other shops joining the market are Simpatico Coffee, a fair-trade and sustainable coffee roaster based in nearby Holland, Love’s, a hand-crafted, boutique ice cream-maker, Aperitivo, a wine and cheese bar, Old World Olive Press, an olive oil purveyor, and a gourmet kettle corn shop. Fritz said that they are close to announcing the name of the brewery, and says that it’s an established brewery with a “new concept in brewing.” Aperitivo, which will operate a retail cheese shop as well as a wine bar, is working with local creameries such as Dancing Goat Creamery in Byron Center, Evergreen Lane in Fennville, and Zingerman’s from Ann Arbor.

By working with businesses that offer locally-produced and grown products, Fritz believes that the market is more sustainable by reducing the transportation needs for food (and thereby reducing their carbon footprint). Also, all vendors are required to participate in the Market’s recycling program, which includes composting and feeding food waste to animals.

The farmer’s market will open May 4, and operate from 8 am to 1 pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and 4 to 7 pm on Thursdays.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Market