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Heard on Morning Edition, CultureShift

Jefferson Chalmers Farmers Market Sees Growth Amid Pandemic Summer

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Image credit: Kaitlin Shelby

Market manager Minya Irby says last summer, the market had three or four vendors. This year, there are 30 and even more on a waiting list.

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Now in its second year, the Jefferson Chalmers Farmers Market is seeing expansion amid what many are calling the “pandemic summer.”

Minya Irby, the market manager and a lifelong resident of Jefferson Chalmers, says that last summer was the first year that she, along with some other community members, launched the market. She recalls having just three or four participating vendors throughout the season. Things have changed since then; now there’s a waiting list for vendors who want to sell at the bimonthly event. ”This year we have 32 vendors registered, 10 of them were [at the market] on July 12th,” says Irby. says there’s

The goal is to really serve as a business incubator to give small local growers and crafters a barrier-free entry into the marketplace because for smaller growers and smaller vendors they may not have a following.” — Minya Irby, Market Manager

Keeping It Local

The amount of interest from vendors isn’t the only thing that’s changed. The farmer’s market has a new location in the community as well. Irby has partnered with fellow Jefferson Chalmers residents and urban farmers Wayne and Myrtle Thompson of Feedom Freedom Growers. The new location for the market incorporates the Thompson’s existing farm stand on Manistique near East Jefferson. 

Minya Irby in her Jefferson Chalmers gardenMinya Irby
Minya Irby

Minya Irby in her Jefferson Chalmers garden

Irby says it’s important that Jefferson Chalmers growers and crafters get priority when it comes to deciding who is going to be able to sell at the bi-monthly market. ”The goal is to really serve as a business incubator to give small local growers and crafters a barrier-free entry into the marketplace because for smaller growers and smaller vendors they may not have a following… a place like Eastern Market is expensive for them,” says Irby.

Irby explains that “when we create a space in our community we do a couple of things: We give them access to the marketplace and then the people in the community no longer have to travel outside the community to get what they need and so we bring it right to the residents of the Jefferson Chalmers community and that’s important to me.”

Jefferson Chalmers has been Irby’s home for her entire life; her family has been there for generations. “My grandparents moved to Jefferson Chalmers in 1946 and in 1946, Black people could only live on Clairpointe, Tennesee and half of Conner.” (This is also known as the CTC area) “My mother and my aunt grew up in that neighborhood, I grew up in that neighborhood and my kids grow up there…and so it’s very very important that there is access to good quality food and access to hand made supplies and resources within our community,” she says.

While Jefferson Chalmers residents get priority for vendor spots at the market, Irby says that all Detroit residents are also welcome to apply to sell at the market, and if there are still open spots after opening it up to all Detroit residents, she will open it up to the entire tri-county area.

Bringing People Together During A Pandemic

While Irby is devoted to bringing her community together over healthy food and hand-made crafts, she is concerned about the safety of doing so during a pandemic. ”We don’t want to exceed [30 vendors] because we have to maintain safe social distancing and we don’t want to have so large a crowd that it becomes unsafe,” she explains.

Irby also says the market is actively seeking more growers with fresh Detroit-grown produce. “Right now we are in the application phase of our SNAP benefits… and so that would open the market up as a SNAP retailer which would greatly benefit the community,” says Irby. 

When it comes to the crafters who set up shop at the market, Irby says they are part of the larger fabric of makers and creators that define this city.

If you look around the city of Detroit in the last five years, we are starting to become a little bit of an entrepreneurial hub. This is Detroit and we make things here. We make great soul music, we make wonderful cars and most are gifted to be able to make other things,” says Irby.

The farmers market has crafters that make soaps, candles, lotions, jewelry, bonnets, teas and beeswax products.

How has COVID-19 impacted the market?

Aside from the added physical distancing concerns, Irby says that this moment of uncertainty has in some ways benefitted the farmers market in the sense that it has opened up the minds of many people, leading them to consider healthier choices in their daily lives. “I think that with everything going on with the pandemic, there’s a great buzz throughout the country and the buzz is: Learn to grow your own food, learn to be a little healthier. I think that we as Americans want to be able to move toward a place of being able to protect ourselves… without having to use a lot of standard medicine… I’m definitely not advocating for the elimination of Western medicine, but there are things we can do to take better care of ourselves,” says Irby. 

The Jefferson Chalmers Farmers Market takes place on the second and fourth Sunday of every month from July through October. The market is located between Manistique and East Jefferson. The next farmers market in Jefferson Chalmers takes place July 26th from 2 until 6 p.m. 

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Annamarie Sysling, Environmental Reporter and Producer, Detroit Today

Annamarie Sysling is a producer for “Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson.” When she’s not at work, Sysling is likely walking or biking somewhere in the city, listening to a neuroscience podcast or eating ice cream.

annamarie.sysling@wdet.org Follow @asysling

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