Lansing City Market: Not a true farmer’s market, but something else

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By Jazzy Teen
Listen Up, Lansing

LANSING- Five years ago, the construction of a new building along downtown’s river trail was completed, serving as a new home for the Lansing City Market, an establishment serving Lansing since 1909.

What was planned to be a great gain for locals has not pleased all. Many who remember the old market are not satisfied with the new market’s lack of farmer’s market characteristics. However, city officials and the Lansing City Market itself said the facility has evolved from the traditional model.

Lansing City Market hopes to bring new flavor and taste to local residents.

Lansing City Market hopes to bring new flavor and taste to local residents.

“My problems with the ‘city market’, is that ‘the city’ has taken away the image of the ‘farmers market’ where local growers would be welcome to bring their home grown and homemade goods for sale,” said Alice Florida, long-time Lansing resident.

Florida looked around the market and pointed to the only two produce stands, one of which she pointed out had fruits containing labels from the grocery store.

“The farmer’s market which was displaced by the current structure was a great treat to visit, particularly in the spring when not only early crops such as strawberries, peas, lettuces, and spinach were available but also seedling plants for the home grower to use to create his or her own garden,” said Florida.

“I walk into the market today and observed a three-fourths empty indoor sales structure, no plant material, very few fruits and vegetables. There were at least 3 food vendors, but no customers at the time I was there.”

Florida doesn’t stand alone in her disappointments with the new market.

Lansing City Market manager Lori Mellentine and Randy Hannan, chief of staff to Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, each expressed their awareness of the comparisons held by locals to the previous market.

Essentially, why the city’s market has changed is simply because time has changed and the city itself is still evolving, said both in so many words.

“The city, this type of business, continuously changes and the biggest reason why you don’t see the same exact environment and venue is because times have changed. People remember when only one grocery store or market was available from the 50s-60s, but today there are more options,” said Hannan.

According to Hannan, there are currently farmer’s markets scattered all over the city and even having larger grocery stores such as Meijer and Kroger providing fresh produce have played its part in the evolution.

“At one time we were called a farm market, but we are now a city market. I did some research because all I kept hearing for a while was ‘what happened to all the produce farmers?’ and I literally could not find them,” said Mellentine.

She said that with this town having so many small markets available on a constant basis, especially during seasonal months, farmers here find the market that best suits them. The small markets in addition to selling at a stand just in front of their farm would be more efficient for the farmer than committing to rent and a five-day styled market.

“So ‘what am I doing wrong and what can I do better?’ I asked myself while I did some research with different markets around Michigan, some in California, and a few in the south to see what others were doing. What I found was that the general consensus is that everyone is going toward what you might call, ‘the urban market’ model,” said Mellentine.

“Yes they have fresh produce but they also have fresh meat, ready-to-eat foods, jerky, breads, and even spices-hand mixed spices which is such a specialty item. So you can say a lot of markets are going towards an artisan market-things you cannot find from the big box store.”

Hill's Cheese provides artisan bread in the market. Future plans for the market include a bakery and wine and beer shop.

Hill’s Cheese provides artisan cheese in the market. Future plans for the market include a bakery and wine and beer shop.

According to Mellentine, this is the approach the Lansing City Market is aiming for and is not strictly designed toward a traditional farmer’s market model.

“But of course things have changed and evolved, really in the last five years we really are an urban market. I guess for lack of better words I’d like to call us a hybrid of the two,” said John Decker, 20-year vendor of the market.

“This change has been intentional while many have thought we meant to mimic the old market,” said Mellentine.

According to the market’s website, currently the market features “a wide variety of goods including: kayak and canoe rentals (weather-permitting), local produce, fresh dairy products, artisan cheese, organic meat, poultry, natural heath care products, gluten-free items, and several hot-prepared food merchants including a full-service bar and grill.”

A vendor in Lansing City Market, Dublin Jerky, provides gourmet jerky and  sausage.

A vendor in Lansing City Market, Dublin Jerky, provides gourmet jerky and sausage.

“Eventually we want to bring in a bakery, and beer and wine shop. We feel we need both in here and look forward to doing so,” said Mellentine.

In the coming months, new apartment buildings in front of the market as well as across the street at the Lansing Lugnuts’ stadium are expected to bring in a cumulative of 200-plus residents to the area.

Mellentine said that with the location the market is at, there’s no telling what the area will be like in 10-plus years as more and more people move downtown.

“We all have a difficult time with change whether it be something like this or not … but life wouldn’t be as fun without a few changes,” said Mellentine.

 

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