“We started this market 6 years ago with only 4 vendors,” says Nick Schmidt, the President and Market Manager of the Bridgman Open-Air Market. Schmidt is an egg and produce vendor along with his wife, Sheri, as the owners of Loose Feathers Eggery. “Now, we are averaging 45 to 55 vendors each week. It’s all about caring for people where they are at.” For the Schmidts, there was a need for fresh produce in the community and they wanted to bring people together.
Bringing in community members and visitors, The Bridgman Open-Air Market in Bridgman, Michigan operates every Sunday, 9am to 3pm, from May to October, in a downtown lot at 4509 Lake St Bridgman. This market connects locals and visitors alike with artisans, crafters, and farmers, giving them the peace of mind knowing that what they are purchasing is fresh made and local.
“We make sure the folks who sell here are bringing their own hard work…hand-made or homegrown,” said Schmidt. “We’ve had vendors try to sell produce they bought at the store. That’s just not the market we strive to be.”
When I visited on a gorgeous Sunday in June, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the vendors at the market. Here are some of the vendors I met along the way:
Maria Falce of Kindred Root, an author, herbalist and healer, brought me into her apothecary of medicinal herbs and wild foods.
“I grow as much as I can in my gardens. While some basic ingredients are not able to grow in Michigan, I source everything I can from organic farms and producers,” Falce said proudly. Some customers started to step up to survey her herbal teas, balms, and tinctures.
Samuel Contreras of Agape Bakery, a first time vendor at the market, offered an online delivery service of cookies and baked goods. Baking has been a passion since he was in middle school.
“I set out to make the best cookies I can and I always bake with the best ingredients,” Contreras said.” We just started here at the market and we are excited to continue growing the bakery.”
Jen Longacre of MariThyme Gardening Solutions is a behavioral analyst turned farmer with an amazing sense of humor. She discussed the challenges of studying for her doctorate while meeting the challenges of growing herbs and produce.
“People don’t realize that food isn’t just about planting a seed and ensuring it’s watered,” Longacre said. “ It’s all the other factors such as birds, pests, and wild animals that can ruin your hard work.”
Tammy Green represented her family farm, Bees and Trees of Adrian, MI. At her booth, raw honey and maple syrup were presented in decorative glass jars. They glowed in the morning sun harvested from the namesake of her cherished childhood home.
“Everyone you meet at this market is very tight-knit. We support each other and look forward to seeing everyone week to week,” Green said with a smile. “They call this side of Michigan, ‘Michiana,’ since we are so close to South Bend. Here we get Michigan news second to that of Indiana or Chicago sources. I believe Southwest Michigan has a lot of untapped potential. There are so many great wineries, breweries and producers here, we are an essential gateway to Michigan from the west.”
I told Green that I had grown up in Northwest Indiana and often traveled to this corner of Michigan in my youth. I believe that this is a sacred place and a glittering shoreline of great promise. As the Southwest Michigan Local Food Coordinator, it is my job to connect customers to all the amazing people that give Michigan its enticing aromas, its intriguing tastes, and its welcoming atmosphere. I told her I won’t let them be forgotten. “I sure hope so,” she replied.
As I said my goodbyes, I snapped a photo of the members that dedicate their time to putting on such a great market. I saw more than just farmers, and business-oriented entrepreneurs there. I saw a close community of folks that can grow something out of nothing. One that can turn a couple of vendors in a parking lot into a community resource that gives back to its local roots.
The Bridgman Open-Air Market in Bridgman, Michigan operates every Sunday from May to October, 9am to 3pm at 4509 Lake St Bridgman, Michigan 49106
Neil Davey is a resident of Marshall, MI and is the Southwest Michigan Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. This Hoosier turned Michigander can often be found writing his next book, fooling around in the garden, experimenting with his weekly CSA produce, or planning his next hiking trip somewhere in the pleasant peninsula.