By Julie Dunmire
The Williamston Post
In Williamston, the local farms work in concert with the Farmers Market to create a diverse agricultural community. This chain goes from the farmers, to the people who run the market and helps create a community surrounded by available nutritious food for all, despite economic standing.
Trillium Wood Farm is bringing something entirely new to an agricultural community that has always had a small-town feel.
“When we were little kids, there weren’t all these restaurants. There was Domino’s, and a few other places, and that’s about it,” said Elise Thorp, first generation farmer at Trillium Wood Farm.
Elise and her sister, Allie, grew up on a vast property, but never had a farm of their own, until recently.
“My parents always had a huge vegetable garden, so it’s something I’ve always kind of been around,” said Allie Thorp.
“We were raising chickens and turkeys for personal use, so it just kind of progressed from there,” said Elise.
Allie and Elise aren’t alone in their endeavor at Trillium Wood, however. They quickly enlisted childhood best friend Maddy Kamalay, whose fiance Ben Crocker also joined in on the journey.
“It took us about a year to plan it all out,” said Allie.
Once the ball got rolling, the farmers started cranking out new products and ideas. Their list of products includes: syrup, honey, chicken, eggs, quail, beef, lamb, pork and vegetables.
Trillium Wood’s owners describe themselves as “small and diversified,” and while they have no intentions of growing to any kind of enormity just yet, they are always on the lookout for expansion.
That’s what brought them to this year’s addition–CSA, or community supported agriculture, in their vegetable crop. This means people can purchase a part of the land, and yield the crop that that piece of land produces at the farm.
In addition to CSA, Trillium Wood Farm is also adding another element to its farming roster–the Williamston Farmers Market.
It would be their first year as vendors at the market, one of three farms that Marlene Epley, farmers market manager, has received season-long applications for.
Epley has been working diligently since January to make sure the vendor applications are up to date, and says that the next few weeks of planning are the busiest time of year for her–the weeks leading up to the premiere of the market.
Epley took over running the market for its 2013 season, and was supposed to do it for only one year, until that turned into two, and now three seasons of running the market.
Since taking over, she has increased the number of weekly vendors from around 7-8 vendors per week, to 14-16.
Epley also spearheaded all the government funding that the Williamston Farmers Market receives.
Epley has made sure that the Williamston Farmers Market accepts SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, and in turn Double Up Food Bucks, as well as WIC and a program for seniors to have access to the market’s goods.
SNAP is a form of food subsidy provided by the government, for lower income families. In order to use SNAP benefits, qualifying people can approach the designated canopy at the farmer’s market. They select the amount of money they would like to spend, and are given coinciding tokens.
Each SNAP token is worth $1, and that is the form of currency used at the market. In addition to the SNAP benefits, which can be used on bread, meat, fruits and veggies, members of SNAP receive Double Up Food Bucks as well, which can be used on a more limited amount of products–essentially just locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Double Up Food Bucks also uses tokens as a form of currency, and each one of those is worth $2.
Trillium Wood Farm says that the programs the farmer’s market now offers for lower income families are something they can get behind.
“It helps put fresh fruits and vegetables in the hands of people who wouldn’t have access to it otherwise,” said Ben Crocker, Trillium Wood farmer.
Elise also says that the programs at the Williamston Farmers Market allows them to keep quality standards, that come with the type of farming they feel is right. These standards can often cause the price of their product to be more expensive than what you would find in the traditional grocery store.
Professor Craig Harris of Michigan State University specializes in the sociology of food, agriculture, and environmental sociology.
He says that the demand increase for locally grown, holistic foods and the increase in popularity of farmers markets around the Greater Lansing area has gone up since the end of the recession.
“If the incomes of the middle class can accelerate, then I think it will really accelerate the demand for locally produced food,” said Harris.
Harris says that the contribution of governmental subsidies, like the ones provided at the Williamston Farmers Market, is changing the name recognition of farmers markets as well.
“If you talk to some people about farmers markets, they’ll get this scornful look on their face and say those are for rich people,” said Harris. “With things like Double Up Bucks, and the availability of SNAP, the farmers market is changing.”