By BETH ALTENA
Over the years the Plainfield Farmers Market has been a success, or a struggle, according to quotes from various news stories, and trustees at the township voted this month to stop offering the venue for produce, goods and crafts.
The market was begun ten years ago in June of 2008 by then Clerk Sue Morrow, who was voted onto the board as a trustee last year after being out of office for years. Originally the market was held in a parking lot across from the township offices on property then owned by the township. It moved the next year to a location on Plainfield Avenue in the parking lot of Frontline Church at the intersection of Five Mile.
In an article published by the Grand Rapids Press the after first year, then market manager and newly elected Clerk Scott Harvey extolled the success of the market, saying that, despite having no budget for advertising, the market was thriving. The article said that the township spent $3,200 on the market’s annual budget, including $2,500 for a paid market manager, but Harvey said income from the market was projected at $11,600.
In 2015 the market began operating in front of K Mart in the same shopping complex, and trustees voted unanimously to keep funding in place. According to Plainfield Township Superintendent Carmeron Van Wyngarden, the budget for the market in the past had been under $4,000. Township officials said the move to the K Mart parking lot helped with advertising the market. In 2016 K Mart closed its doors at the Plainfield store, among others across Michigan.
When the market was started, Morrow said all the departments in the township suggested a farmers market for the residents. “We must have had 15 ideas but it was very easy to cut down the list because the market was the first and overwhelming choice,” she said at the time. The initial market offered room for 50 vendors and places to sit and eat and plenty of parking, although parking was across the street at the township hall.
In the early years planners included weekly classes offered to the public and free booths for nonprofit agencies. In the early years coordinator Monte Bell said feedback was overwhelmingly positive, according to an old MLive article.
The Plainfield Market early on made the decision to allow crafts and other nonfood booths, a difference from Rockford’s market, which is strictly limited to produce, grown goods and foods, such as jerky, breads and honey. Over the years the township trustees struggled with whether the township should be in the business of making money from a market or whether the market is a service to the community at the cost of taxpayer dollars.
“I’m sure that was at the back of everyone’s mind,” Van Wyngarden. “Whether we were creating an unfair advantage to other’s selling produce and goods from a brick and mortar location.” He said the township moved the market from Frontline to the parking lot of K Mart two years ago when the church had to repave the parking lot.
“At first they said they would have to move us for a couple of weeks, then they ran into a lot of delays so it would be more than a week or two. We had to find a new location quickly.” He said an advantage of the move is that K Mart offered the space for free, compared to a fee by the church, and this helped the market break even financially over the past few years.
With K Mart closing the building, the market would not have restrooms available on site, or a place to go inside. Additionally, the most recent manager left as part time market manager to take a full time job with benefits. “We don’t blame her for that,” Van Wyngarden stated.
He also laughed at the quote in another article that said residents thought the vendors looked like a “roaming band of gypsies.” It’s not that the vendors looked like gypsies, it’s that the location seemed odd. “The way they were positioned in the parking lot, here’s this vast, vast sea of asphalt and there are all these canopies out in the middle of it. They looked like vendors without a home.”
“That’s one of the advantages of a market like Rockford, they have a place, not that they have permanent structures. A lot of markets have some sort of covered structures.”
With the need to both replace the outgoing market manager and find a new location, Van Wyngarden said it felt like starting over from scratch. “If you’ve got something good going and just need to plug in a new person, that’s one thing. With all that in mind we had to wonder, is this the best use of everyone’s time.”
Van Wyngarden also said the farm market industry has changed a lot in the past ten years, for example, there are a lot more of them now. “It’s additional competition, it weeds the weak ones out. It served its purpose, it offered a need for farm fresh produce and a location for that.”
Morrow said it was somewhat sad to see the market go, and was quick to point out members of the Plainfield Authority Committee actually came up with the idea a decade ago, specifically Plainfield resident and former board member Jane Dykema.
“I may have worked hard on it, but they certainly offered all the support.” She recalls the first year of the market in downtown Belmont. “We ran out of space the first day,” she said. Not only did vendor and shopper vehicles fill the township parking lot, cars lined up along the road, which was not an ideal situation when fire trucks needed to get out of the station there.
She recalled those first days of the market with fondness. “It was a nice space, it was contained and we had good vendors. We found a man with a smoker or roaster who smoked pork and it smelled fantastic.” She said over the years the market doubled in size and became an effort to manage.
“We made a good effort, but it was an idea that served its time. I am a person who is always looking to the future. Who knows what the future will hold?