Growing the Saginaw Farmers' Market
MSU Extension has helped the Saginaw Farmers Market expand and grow.
The Downtown Saginaw Farmers' Market continues the wonderful tradition of farmers markets in Saginaw for the last century by providing fresh local produce and offering a welcoming gathering place for the entire community and region.
For the last 10 years, MSU Extension Educator Julia Darnton has been working with the Downtown Saginaw Farmers’ Market. For most of that time, the market has been seeking an opportunity to have a permanent home with a pavilion that provides more cover from the rain. In 2018, the market, which is operated as a non-profit organization, was able to relocate to their new home at the new SVRC Marketplace at 203 South Washington Avenue where they operated an outdoor seasonal market.
Since 2007, the Downtown Saginaw Farmers’ Market has been able to process EBT transactions for people receiving SNAP food assistance and has reached out to parents with small children who receive WIC benefits to get coupons for fresh food at the market through a program called Project FRESH. The market is also an important outlet for fresh food for seniors through a program called Senior Market FRESH.
Since 2012, the Market has offered incentives for customers who use food assistance through a state-wide program called Double Up Food Bucks. This program doubles a customer’s food assistance benefits up to $20 each day the market is open.
This year, Julia and market volunteers reached out to youth through a program called the Power of Produce. This program, designed for kids ages 5-13, taught kids lessons about fresh vegetables and fruit. The objective of the program was to get kids to try new foods and learn about nutrition. Les-sons coincided with seasonal foods and featured: zucchini, blueberries, beets, cucumbers, winter squash, and apples.
Kids learned skills about using knives safely, the importance of physical activity, how vegetables can be in lots of different foods (anyone for beet cake?), how to preserve food, and how different varieties of foods can taste very different through an apple variety tasting! In its first year, the program engaged 200 kids in lessons and each participating child received a two-dollar “pop buck” to spend with market vendors.
Michigan State University Extension also provides education about nutrition at the farmers market so families can learn how to shop at the market, how to stretch their food dollars, and how to make the most of what they get at the market. Education on food preservation has also been offered at the Market to help people safely extend the life of their fresh vegetables. Julia supports farmers markets in the region as well as across the state through a partnership with the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA) which trains the people that manage farmers markets in hopes of making them sustainable outlets for fresh food across the state.
In Saginaw County, there are farmers markets operating in Birch Run, Chesaning, Frankenmuth, Hemlock, St. Charles, and Saginaw. Vendors at these markets come from the region with most traveling fewer than 30 miles to sell at the market. The regional food system in the Great Lakes Bay Region is strong.