By Angelo Parlove
The asphalt is hot. The open parking lot makes it difficult to set up tents. During the summer months, when the kids are out of school, the attendance drops.
Christine Easley, the new managing director for the Saline farmers markets, knew there was problems with the Tuesday market at the Saline District Library before she took over the reins last October. “I heard there were issues before I even started officially, so it was something I knew I wanted to get on top of and really decide what the best option was,” she said.
The issues built to the point where the three key vendors for the Tuesday market were prepared to pull out all together. The vendors didn’t want to return next season. “That really was a big eye opener for me,” Easley said.
So, Easley delved into what she calls “the dilemma of the Tuesday market.” She reached out to the community. She talked to the vendors. Easley considered the complaints provided on surveys. A big problem she found: the customers were concerned about the lack of vendors, while the vendors complained about the lack of customers.
“[The market] gets regular attendance as school is going on, but when the summer came, the market really dropped out,” Easley said. The attendance fell to the point vendors where leaving the Tuesday market before the end of the season, even at cost of losing their seasonal fees.
Easley pondered just canceling the Tuesday market. She understood the vendors were spread thin across the many markets in the area. She also considered the growing number of stores dedicated to local products.
However, Easley then came up with another plan. “I’ve come up with an alternative because I feel like I wanted to give my try coming in, and what I can do in helping this market go and helping the community go,” she said.
After talking with vendors, reaching out to customers and vetting more surveys, Easley is looking to relocate the Tuesday farmers market to Rentschler Farm on Michigan Avenue, where she hopes the move will turn the market from a mere shopping experience to a place to be.
“The market would no longer be just a shopping market, where you would stop on your way through, pick up what you needed and go home, but it could also be a destination market,” she said.
The new market would be a place people could take their kids to visit and pet animals, where families can bring a blanket and spread out on a grassy area near trees. Ideally, Easley wants to add live music in the gazebo as well as a food truck or two. Besides the shopping, it would be place where folks could just hang out, too.
“All the markets I have been at, music really adds a lot to the atmosphere,” Easley said.”The vendors love it, and it makes them love coming to the market, and being part of the market more, but also keeps the customers around more, and they look forward to it every week.”
The Rentschler Farm location would also provide market customers a firsthand farm-to-table experience right there.
“With the farm and garden at Rentschler Farm, I think it would be neat to educate the community and the children that vegetables and fruits just don’t magically appear on the counter, in the store or even at the market,” Easley said. “You could walk over 50 feet and see where the plant is planted, how it looks when its planted, how it looks when its on the vine. They could be more educated in that way.”
The Saline Area Historical Society, who operates Rentschler Farm, approves of relocating the Tuesday market to their site, Easley said. The vendors, including the key vendors that were not planning to return this season, also support the move.
“They think that it’s a good, unique idea and willing to give it a try.” Easley said. “They have been excited what I have done so far, and working with me, that they are also willing to commit to this opportunity.”
The Saline city council has indicated their approval, too. “It seems like this is a good idea worth exploring and worth implementing, and we’ll see what happens,” Mayor Brian Marl said.