by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL
This Saturday will mark the close of the Rockford Farm Market season and what a season it was! In spite of a scant few naysayers, 6,083 market-goers weren’t wrong when they named the Rockford Farm Market as America’s Favorite Farmers Market.
Sponsored by the American Farmland Trust, the June through August contest highlighted what the Rockford Community already knew – our hometown Farm Market is second to none!
The buzz of publicity generated by the contest, on TV and in the press, brought countless new visitors to Saturday morning markets resulting in, according to market vendors, a runaway successful season.
Possibly little understood is the fact that the Farmer’s Market is an economic engine that directly benefits Rockford’s downtown business community. This is underscored by a study undertaken by the Midtown Neighborhood Association, operators of the nearly 100-year-old nonprofit Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids.
The Fulton St. Market, at its busiest, attracts upwards of 10,000 customers per week who spend an estimated $200,000 weekly at nearby businesses. The East Fulton Business District and all Eastown businesses, in general, benefit by the spillover effect of market-goers seeking other shopping and dining choices after filling their market baskets.
Yes, the Fulton Street Farmers Market operates four days a week and the Rockford Market only operates on Saturday mornings. Nevertheless, Rockford’s mighty small-venue market brings upwards of 3,000 visitors to town on Saturday mornings, June through October of every year.
From our contest-polling table at the Rockford Farm Market this summer, we learned first-hand that market-goers were eager to seek out everything that Rockford has to offer. If only more of Rockford’s business community could wrap their minds around the potential to exploit and embrace, to their financial advantage, the huge influx of market patrons.
Other information of note harvested at our polling table was two often repeated anxious comments. The first being, “Where’s the closest washroom?” Followed by, “Why aren’t there at least Port-O-Jons on site?” We heard this as a complaint from vendors and a plaintive cry of help from market-goers. At the very least, visible signage could be placed directing those in need to the restroom facilities adjacent to the Welcome Center and those facilities available to the south in Pickett Park.
Another frequently heard comment was from owners of man’s best friend. “It’s wonderful that Rockford allows the presence of dogs at market. We (dog lovers) would not be attending the market if that were otherwise.” They were vehement and we certainly believe them.
In general, most market-goers believe that dogs should not have a presence at farm markets. After all one wouldn’t consider, nor be allowed, to bring their dog into the supermarket. Nevertheless, the presence of dogs is tacitly accepted by all and does not appear to be a deterrent to overall market attendance.
So let’s wrap up Rockford’s winning season at Farm Market. Grab your market baskets one last time and, rain or shine (or even dreaded snow), head on down to this Saturday’s close of the Farm Market season. While there, stock up on fall harvest produce items, exchange hugs with your favorite vendors, thank the volunteer Lions Market Masters, and accept the fact that “Pure Michigan” also means another seemingly ceaseless winter – when the bounty of freshly harvested Michigan produce goes into hibernation.
In closing, what would Saturday summer mornings in Rockford be without Rockford’s Farm Market? Let that thought sustain you until the first Saturday next June.