Let’s explore agritourism and its benefits to our area

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Second to agriculture, humbug is the biggest industry of our age.
— Alfred Nobel

By JACKIE LOVEJOY
President

Agritourism is a form of niche tourism that is considered a growth industry in many parts of the world, including Australia, Canada, and the United States. This is a thriving, up-and-coming industry, and families build their vacations and long weekends around visiting farmers markets and similar attractions.

I mentioned last month that I attended Farmers Market Boot Camp, hosted by the Michigan Farmers Market Association at Michigan State University. The charge is to bring fresh produce to urban areas and help create a thriving downtown atmosphere.

Let’s explore agritourism and how it will benefit our area, the new train station, and Dearborn and our surrounding areas.

You may or may not know that the Dearborn Area Chamber is a hub for exporters. We process Certificates of Origin to ensure proper (or no) taxes and tariffs are charged to the more than 200 free trade countries we do business with around the world.

The consultants to the International Chamber in Paris came to Dearborn to train us at the chamber last summer when I was first on board. Their awe at our Dearborn Farmers and Artisans Market was amazing!

From New Jersey and England, our trainers were delighted that our market “popped up” each Friday behind the Bryant Library and had a sundry of items available — from honey to fruit to furniture! They both could see building a vacation around this event, and we discussed the area markets, how we share vendors and even have Double Up Food Bucks available so all income levels can enjoy fresh locally grown produce.

It struck me then that this seemed unique to certain folks, and I began to explore the topic, and my memories. It turns out I have been prepped for agritourism my whole life!

I grew up working in the Eastern Market since I was 14, at Rocky Peanut Co. I am used to the early mornings, the vendors and artisans coming together, greeting the public and suggesting great menu items. I surprise people all the time by showing them you can eat the husk of a peanut besides just the roasted nut inside. It really has that peanut butter taste.

That’s what local vendors bring to the market, insider knowledge, cooking ideas and fun foods you may not normally try. Rafal Spice (now closed) was where my girlfriend Patty worked just down the block, and we would regularly recommend finds to each other. We would buy exotic coffees for our parents for Christmas, candies for our siblings, and all sorts of odd finds for each other. We made more than minimum wage ($3 per hour) and we stretched those dollars at the market.

Before I got to Eastern Market, my parents were early agritourists, though we didn’t know it at the time. Just an hour from home, Windsor and Kingsville, Ontario, and Romeo were our regular destinations. On a budget (it was the ’70s, my dad and uncle were laid off in the automotive trades) we used to pile into the car with my aunt, uncle and the five cousins, and hit the local farms.

My mom loved the brown eggs, we loved the peaches, and my aunt loved antiquing. We kids enjoyed the animals we were able to pet and see up close. Sometimes we could have 50 cents (my how times have changed) and we could hunt for a rare find for ourselves.

The Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary was always an enticement to be good (read “quiet”) in the car. We could pull in and see peacocks, just wandering around. We were surprised such “nature” was so close to home.

Fast forward, now I pass small wineries with alpacas and llamas as I travel Michigan. Thanks to Public Act 100, wineries bottling less than 5,000 gallons can sample and sell at farmers markets. Couple that with the huge trend of food trucks, musicians seeking an audience and local artists seeking a great venue, farmers markets have come full circle — and have become a destination to see.

Housed across the state in vacant fire houses, parking lots, shelters
and parks, farmers markets are hosted by chambers, downtown development authorities, and cities seeking to bring economy to the vendors, and variety to the residents.

The trend has taken off, and if you visit the Dearborn Farmers and Artisans Market, or one of our neighboring ones, you can see each area has it’s own personality and vibe. There are purely organic markets in Ann Arbor, “party” markets in Grand Rapids, the historic fire house in Holt, the Mennonite market in Port Sanilac, the list goes on and on.

Can you imagine getting off the train at our new train station, seeing Michigan Avenue on a Friday filled with shoppers and tents? I field vacationers’ calls all the time, and encourage them to check us out on a Friday. After all, the Welcome Center is right here too. Families have asked me about shopping because they want snacks for their hotel room; the farmers market is a wholesome option for them.

Get out and try one on, see if there is something interesting in your neighborhood or just 30 minutes away. Be sure to look for websites, or call ahead for information — musicians, attractions and demos are changing weekly at our market. Zumba at the market with me on June 13 for example.

MIFMA and the boot camp were awash in great ideas and promotions to try and we are exploring all sorts of fun for the public. I’ve said it before: Get out and be a tourist in our home town; the plentiful offerings are on the cutting edge. Don’t let the “humbug” get you. Get out and explore the markets in our great corner of Michigan.