This month, the Flint Farmers’ Market celebrates the first anniversary of its move to the Downtown location and it’s been a booming success since the day it opened. “The market has become the hub of Downtown,” says Sean Gartland, Market Co-Manager along with Karianne Martus. “We’ve pretty much doubled our outside vendors.” Sean and Karianne sat down with My City Magazine to reflect on the growth and challenges of the last year. “It’s been overwhelmingly good,” says Karianne, but there has also been a learning curve. “Bigger spot, bigger problems, but also bigger successes,” she laughs.
From the staff offices on the second floor, Karianne says she watches with delight as people fill the street to descend upon the marketplace. Employees of Downtown businesses, college students and people from all over have embraced the new venue. It is also especially popular with students of various ethnic backgrounds. “Many students say it reminds them of home,” says Karianne.
With the new event space, the Market has become a hot spot for community gatherings such as the recent Genesys Ball, press conferences, Taste of Flint and many others. The staff is very excited that the Michigan Food, Beer & Wine Festival will be held there in the fall. “That’s the kind of stuff we could never do before!” exclaims Sean. Flint Food Works, of which Sean is the Culinary Director, has also become very popular. The program provides kitchen space for food-based businesses to establish products, perfect their recipes and develop a business model to help them grow. Its mission is to help entrepreneurs take a product from the field to the market. “We help them start their business and get their foot in the door,” says Sean.
The group of vendors and staff at the Market has become a tight-knit group. “I feel so lucky and blessed to be working in this culture,” says Karianne. “It’s not the walls that make a place,” added Sean. “It’s the people.” The Market also has a good mix of vendors, businesses and restaurants, and all of the 50 vendor spots are now filled year-round.
Mark Hoffman is a new vendor who opened Hoffman’s Chop Shop at the Downtown facility last June. When he learned that the Market was looking for a “meat guy” he decided to take a shot at it. His uncle raises grass-fed Black Angus at a ranch in Swartz Creek, so it seemed like a good fit for him. The shop specializes in natural grass-fed beef and other premium cuts of beef. “The way we butcher our beef is really old school,” says Mark, “and the public loves it!” The shop also sells local lamb, pork, and Michigan farm-raised shrimp and rainbow trout. “This has been an amazing opportunity for me,” Mark says of the first year. “I’m blessed that I am here.”
Longtime Farmers’ Market vendors Sam and Enaya Jawhari own Beirut Restaurant, known for delicious Middle Eastern foods. “I saw the vision,” says Sam, when they moved from the nostalgic former location off East Flint Boulevard. “This is the best thing since sliced bread. It has become a great Flint attraction!” he exclaims. He also admits that his business has almost doubled since the move.
Charlie Weston, owner of Charlie’s Smokin’ BBQ along with his family, was an outside vendor at the old Market location and has enjoyed occupying indoor space at the new one. “Being inside makes you feel like part of a big family,” says Sandy Weston. “It’s been great here,” Charlie says. “It has exceeded my expectations.” Charlie’s is known for mouthwatering, hickory-smoked ribs, brisket and pulled pork. The number of his customers has also increased and Charlie says he loves not having to deal with the outside elements.
While celebrating the success of the first year, many of the Market vendors and staff are saddened by the retirement of longtime Market Manager, Dick Ramsdell. He officially retired on April 1 but can still be seen around the marketplace. “He played a huge part in the changeover,” says Sean. “He held the whole thing together for a long time.” Karianne worked with Dick for nine years and says she feels lucky to have had the opportunity. She describes him as a humble man who went above and beyond to help others. Sandy Weston says Dick was a big reason why Charlie’s Smokin’ BBQ moved to the new facility. “He told us there was a major project in the works that we wouldn’t want to miss out on and he was right!” she exclaimed. “Dick will still be here. We think he retired so that he can volunteer.”
As it continues to grow, the Market keeps improving. Everyone is excited about the Hurley Pediatric Residency Clinic and their Pediatric Specialty Clinic which will move in on the second floor. “It’s the only clinic tied directly with the Market,” Karianne reports. Flint Handmade will take over the Arts & Crafts Street Fair, which is also an exciting change. A fundraiser is being planned to support further enhancements, such as improving the atrium floor and making acoustical updates in the community room.
After meeting its one-year milestone, Karianne looks forward to the Market’s future.”We’re overwhelmed by everyone’s reception of us,” says Karianne. “People are loving it and we will keep getting better and better.”
Photography by Mike Naddeo