Wednesday, February 21, 2024

East Lansing-area farmer’s markets: Finding community on a budget

September 13, 2022
Flowers being sold at the Farmers Market at the Capitol in Lansing, MI on Sept. 30, 2021. The mission of the market being to provide a marketplace that showcases Michigan food and agriculture.
Flowers being sold at the Farmers Market at the Capitol in Lansing, MI on Sept. 30, 2021. The mission of the market being to provide a marketplace that showcases Michigan food and agriculture. —
Photo by Jillian Felton | The State News

Farmers markets are having a moment. 

From food vloggers posting their hauls to your grandma and her friends having a weekend outing, they’ve got something for everyone.

Even if you aren’t on ‘cottagecore’ TikTok or someone with an NPR tote bag, making the switch to shopping at a local farmers market can be a fun, healthy change – and it doesn’t have to break the bank.

The East Lansing area has several options for people looking to add sustainable or organic food to their shopping routine. 

East Lansing Farmers Market manager Karla Forrest-Hewitt said deciding to go to the farmers market over supermarkets like Meijer or Target can bring people closer to their community.

“One of the important things about markets in general is that it's a place for you to connect with your community,” Forrest-Hewitt said. ”Especially for students who just moved to East Lansing for the first time.”

Both Forrest-Hewitt and Jenny Wagemann, director of the Allen Farmers Market, said the idea that farmers markets are inherently pricier than shopping at a big box store is a common misconception. 

“People think that the farmers market is so much more expensive, but it's not,” Wagemann said. “I think that's just a facade of some sort that people just imagine. But the quality is better, you're supporting local, it tastes better.”

Think that this sounds like a good option for you? Here’s a few tools for making the most of your next farmers market trip while staying budget-friendly.

Plan ahead


One of the easiest ways to make any shopping trip more cost-effective is to make a list of what you need before leaving the house. Treat the farmers market like any other grocery store and make a physical list before you go to prevent overspending. 

Wagemann said making a plan like this will keep you from buying things you don’t need or that are out of your budget.

“The best way for anybody to shop on a budget is by planning,” Wagemann said. “So if they could plan for their week and look up the recipes and go to the farmers market with an actual list of what it is that they want, then I think that's the best way to eat on a budget.”

Social relations and policy junior Mallory Debono, a weekly farmers market shopper, said that it's also important to come prepared with multiple types of payment, just in case a vendor only accepts a certain form.

"Make sure you bring cash, because a lot of them don't take cards," Debono said.

Consider quality


While sticker prices for produce might be higher at some farmers markets, it’s important to keep in mind you’re paying for a fresher product. Wagemann said that the longevity you’ll get from farmers market produce makes it worth the extra cents you might pay.

“The food stays better longer because it's fresher,” Wagemann said. “It's picked when it's actually ripe, so it tastes better. I just feel like my food goes a lot further than it used to when I went to just the grocery store.”

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Debono and her roommate try to buy as much of their produce as they can at the East Lansing market. Like Wagemann, she said she feels like she's getting a better product for the price at farmers markets. 

"It's healthier overall, because it's straight from a farm," Debono said. "There's a lot fewer of those preservatives and stuff that you sometimes find in, like, the grocery store produce."

Transportation alternatives


Before you write off the farmers market as too far away from your dorm or off-campus apartment, take time to learn about alternative transportation. 

If you don’t have a car, the East Lansing Farmers Market is a great option to walk or bike to from campus – it’s located in Valley Court Park, just behind Crunchy’s.

In fact, the East Lansing Farmers Market is closer to campus than the nearest Meijer or Walmart locations.

“Where we're located is not too far,” Forrest-Hewitt said. “So you don't have to travel too far to get your produce.”

If the Allen Market is calling your name but gas prices aren’t, the market offers pedicab transportation for shop-til-you-drop market goers to a satellite parking lot closer to campus on Michigan Avenue. 

Know your vendors


Becoming a farmers market regular can be a good way to keep everything within your budget. The more you go, the more familiar you’ll be with the market’s vendors and their prices. Wagemann recommends Hillcrest Farms produce and Stone Circle Bakehouse as go-to's. Forrest-Hewitt suggests Wildflower Eco Farms for organic, non-GMO products.

Knowing the vendors at your farmers market isn’t just practical. It’s a way to build relationships and, if you have anxiety about social situations, a good way to remove the stress from your shopping trip. 

“The sense of community is huge,” Wagemann said. “And I think it's something that especially the past few years, people are really craving again, and a farmers market is such a safe space for you to go to.”

The East Lansing Farmers Market runs on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Oct. 30. The Allen Farmers Market is open Wednesdays year-round from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., with a change in October to 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Both markets accept SNAP/EBT payments. 


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