Growing Opportunity in the Eastern UP’s Fields, Forests and Farmers Markets
When a small group of individuals driven by the idea of bringing a farmers market to Les Cheneaux first met, they envisioned a Friday night tourist attraction in the summers, and were able to secure an economic development grant from the Les Cheneaux Community Foundation to jumpstart the market. They didn’t expect such a strong community response that the market could go year-round. The market— now on Sundays— has become a vibrant attraction and business incubator in the Les Cheneaux community. Farmers and makers alike have found the market is a vehicle for expanding sales, fine tuning products, and even launching “bricks and mortar” businesses.
Local meat and vegetable farmer, Joanne Galloway, is one of those who has found opportunity and connections with fellow vendors and customers at the markets around the region. She was instrumental in taking the Les Cheneaux Farmers Market to the next level, calling together market vendors two years ago to talk about the future of the market when grant funds were exhausted. The motivated group of vendors decided to establish a year-round market first at the Les Cheneaux Culinary School, then at the Hessel School House— a newly restored historic building that now permanently houses the Farmers Market.
As communities with farmers markets know, agriculture means business, pumping billions into the Michigan economy, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture. Michigan’s diverse food and agriculture sector contributes $101.2 billion annually to the state’s economy. Farmers markets do their share by providing a direct sales connection between vendors and customers, and by creating an attraction and community meeting place. Sundays in Hessel have truly become “something to look forward to all week,” Galloway said.
Galloway and her husband, Gary, started selling their naturally raised Galloway’s Red Clay Ranch produce and meats at the Les Cheneaux market, and now also from their farm, and at the Pickford and St. Ignace farmers markets.
Both the Les Cheneaux Farmers Market and the Galloways’ business use social media to promote and reinforce relationships established in person, by phone, and online. Galloway created and effectively manages a Facebook page for Galloway’s Red Clay Ranch, which ultimately led to her farm’s USDA-inspected grass fed beef being served in the Mustang Lounge on Mackinac Island.
Other vendor-buyer relationships formed at the market have led to new sales opportunities for local makers. The newly opened Applecore General Store in Cedarville carries items such as soaps, candles, maple syrup, coffee and fiber arts from local vendors the owner discovered at the Les Cheneaux market, and that list is growing. While the focus of Applecore is on Michigan made products, owner Amy Polk especially enjoys showcasing products from the Eastern Upper Peninsula.
“I love it when I can source products within 50 miles of the store,” Polk said. “There is such a wealth of talent and craftsmanship in the region, with more emerging every year; and farmers markets are a visible place for them to launch.”
Demand for locally grown products has doubled the number of Michigan farmers markets over the past decade, from 150 to 300, according to the Michigan Farmers Market Association. The Eastern UP alone saw about a dozen new markets sprout over that decade.
Check out the weekly Les Cheneaux Farmers & Artisans Market each Sunday.
Les Cheneaux Farmers & Artisans Market
Historic Hessel School House, 3206 West Cedar Road
Hessel, MI 49745
Day Open: Sunday, all year Hours: 10 AM through 2 PM
Market Contact: Joanne Galloway, Phone Number: 906.322.7501
Facebook page: @lescheneauxfarmersandartisansmarket
Locally grown vegetables and meats, baked goods, honey, eggs, cut flowers and plants, locally roasted coffee, artisanal foods, and an ever-changing variety of handmade arts and crafts.
If you are an entrepreneur, or just getting started making things to sell, local markets can be an easy “proving ground” for your products. Contact the individual market for more information and guidelines for how to join! Vendors are usually helpful and supportive, too.
Contributed by the Mackinac Economic Alliance.
Photo credits: Lisa Bohn and Amy Polk