‘A dream and an 8-foot table’: How the Holt Farmers’ Market is helping startup businesses

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The Holt Farmers’ Market isn’t just any farmers’ market. The compact former Delhi Township Fire Department building, which only allows 23 tables inside, serves as a space for startups and young businesses to grow and thrive.

            Ofilia Diaz, the proud owner of a Mexican restaurant called El Burrito, is a testament to the transformative power of the Holt Farmers’ Market. Located just a few doors down from the market, her journey from a dream to a successful business was made possible by the support and opportunities provided by the market.

“She just started selling hot food right there at the farmer’s market,” market manager Chuck Grinnell said. “She was using the rental kitchen, which allowed her to come in and do that kind of thing.”

Whether it was her enchiladas, burritos, pico de gallo, or guacamole, Diaz received positive feedback on her food.

“They loved my food,” Diaz said. “They sell really well.”

Grinnell and the market aren’t just committed to helping vendors while at the market on Saturdays. When Diaz was at a location on the west side of Lansing, they offered her the building a couple of doors down from the farmers’ market.

“They made the kitchen,” Diaz said about how the people at Holt Farmers’ Market helped her settle at her new location. “They made this whole little building into a restaurant.”

It’s not cheap and may even be intimidating for some people to start their own restaurant. If Grinnell and the people at the market hadn’t helped Diaz get going, she would not have been able to afford a kitchen or some of the other essentials to owning a restaurant. With the help of the Holt Farmers’ Market, her passion and a supportive community and customer base that “doubled” during the COVID-19 outbreak to support her, Diaz could keep going.

“You have to love what you do,” Diaz said. “Because sometimes you’re not going to make enough money. You’re going to lose money. You’re not going to go in and think you’re going to get rich quick.”

            Katrina Jeffreys, owner of Fur Real Dog Treats, didn’t know what was to come next when her shepherd dog Kayla passed away from cancer in 2016.

“She was that one-heart dog, the one dog in a million you thought you’d never find,” Jeffreys said about her dog Kayla.

            Jeffreys made a stark decision after her dog unfortunately died: she didn’t want her new dog, a German shepherd named Nixie, to suffer the same fate Kayla did. Jeffreys was destined to do her best to avoid Nixie getting cancer, so she took control of her dog’s diet.

Jeffreys started to help make meat products for Nixie to eat. She knows the farmer who raises the animals. She knows where the meat comes from. There’s no antibiotics, GMOs, or steroids either. Jeffreys even hydrates the meat and seals the products herself.

It started just as a side hobby for Jeffreys, but after others recommended she sell the products in the markets and after some initial hesitation, Jeffreys obliged. She started with three products: chicken feet, pig ears, and jerky, which are unique and popular enough for customers to ask for more.

“Just due to the popularity of our items, we’ve been able to move into retail now,” Jeffreys said. “Having the people come here actually gave us more of a financial footing to move out into the community in other areas.”

With the assistance of the Holt Farmers’ Market, which helped establish a customer base, Jeffreys was able to take her business online. She now sells products nationwide, from California to New York and everywhere in between.

“I was able to get out of a normal job and do this full-time,” Jeffreys said. “It wasn’t my dream, but it is now.”

There are more success stories coming out of Holt Farmers’ Market. From crafters to people who sell baked goods, the vendors continue to establish and grow inside the walls of that old fire building.

“It’s kind of like a dad and their kid type of thing,” Grinnell said about the relationship between market manager and vendor. “It’s fun to see somebody come in very green, not sure what to do or how to do it.”

Grinnell and the market take pride in helping passionate people grow and get their feet on the ground.

“It’s fun to really help them expand and just make them better,” Grinnell added.