America’s favorite farmers market returns Saturday for encore season

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

Rockford City Manager Michael Young, Rockford Farm Market organizer Kim McKay, and Market Master Lion Bob Winegar proudly hold the America’s Favorite Farmers Market banner that will be on display Saturday mornings at Rockford’s Farm Market. Photo by CLIFF HILL

On the wings of victory from winning the 2011 America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest, the Rockford Farm Market (RFM) proudly sails into its second decade.

Since its opening day, the first Saturday of June in 2002, RFM has developed a cult-like word-of-mouth following in the greater Rockford community. In many ways, it was Rockford’s best-kept secret.

All that changed with the Market’s entrance last year into the prestigious farmers markets contest sponsored by the American Farmland Trust (AFT). Not only did RFM win its small market category (16-30 vendors), it also received more votes than ANY other single farm market in any category (boutique, small, medium, and large). In doing so, RFM truly could lay claim to the title “America’s Favorite Farmers Market/2011”.

Recently the AFT revealed that nearly 1,700 participating farmers markets were entered into last year’s contest. A total of 90,000 votes were cast online. All the more amazing was the fact that the small city Rockford Farm Market received 6,083 votes, or in other words an incredible 6.8 percent of the total votes cast!

Market organizer Kim McKay sports a new highly collectable, over-the-shoulder, zippered and insulated tote that will be available for sale Saturday mornings at the Market Masters booth and also at City Hall. The tote features Rockford’s America’s Favorite Farmers Market logo. Photo by CLIFF HILL

RFM is a “Pure Michigan” farm market that celebrates and totally reflects the “farm-to-table” movement. It is all about local West Michigan farm produce. A visit to America’s Favorite Farmers Market truly rewards one with a taste of Michigan.

Local regional foods simply taste better. Why? Because they are fresher, not having traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to our tables. That they are more healthful simply goes without saying.

Because of the resulting media coverage in winning last year’s farm market contest, RFM found itself becoming a destination farm market for foodies and farm market affeciationados from near and far. Just as there are wine trails, there are also farm market trails and RFM now finds itself as a “must” market to visit.

What boggles the mind is the fact that RFM operates without cost to its sponsor, the City of Rockford. It has no budget, no paid staff, and does not advertise in the media. Rockford City Treasurer Kim McKay somehow finds the time to organize and administer the June – October market during her already hectic work schedule. Saturday morning Market Master duties are performed by volunteers from the Rockford Lions Club under the direction of Lion Bob Winegar.

Contrast this with the many millions of dollars that are being pumped into a pair of Grand Rapids farmers markets. The 90-year old iconic Fulton St. Market is in the end-stages of a $2.6 million dollar renovation and expansion of the city owned property.

A short distance away to the south, in the Grand Rapids Heartside neighborhood, Grand Action and the Grand Rapids DDA are betting $30 million dollars on what will be known as the Downtown Market when a planned opening occurs in July of 2013. Already ponied up are $4.7 million from the Michigan Economic Development Authority and 1 million from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. An independent board of directors overseeing the project is hoping to raise the remaining funds from public sources, tax credits, and foundation grants.

When one makes a comparison between the Rockford Farm Market and these two huge and moneyed behemoths we quickly realize how blessed we are to have Rockford’s jewel of a farm market, America’s Favorite Farmers Market, in our very midst. This is, but yet, another example of a city that offers its citizens “more with less”.

See you there for the opening of the 2012 RFM season this Saturday, June 2, and every Saturday morning until the market’s close on Saturday, October 27. Located in the S. Squire’s St. parking lot, the Market operates rain or shine from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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