Traverse City News and Events

East Bay Plans “Food Security Incubator” with Farmers Market, Community Garden

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 28, 2024

East Bay Township is launching a new farmers market this spring at East Bay Township Hall – a weekly outdoor evening market that will run every Thursday from 3pm to 7pm through October. The project is part of East Bay’s vision to create a “food security incubator” on the township hall property, helping support local farmers and bringing more fresh food options to the east side of town – with a community garden also planned for the site.

Township planning commissioners and trustees will appoint representatives to an advisory committee for the food security incubator at their March 5 and 11 meetings, respectively. Sam LaSusa is working on the project as a 15-month community and economic development fellow with East Bay Township through the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM). That program is seeding its fellows – placed in communities throughout Michigan – with a $10,000 grant to put toward implementing a master plan or parks and recreation project in their area. A farmers market, listed along with a community garden as a priority in both East Bay’s master plan and parks and recreation plan, fits that criteria ideally, according to LaSusa.

With the seed money helping East Bay Township invest in tents and other infrastructure – plus a logo and branding material, marketing outreach, and equipment like EBT card readers – the township is targeting a May 2 launch for the new farmers market. Vendors will set up in the rear parking area of the township hall, with customer parking located in front. The farmers market can initially accommodate up to 20 vendors, with room to expand in the future. First priority will be given to East Bay Township farmers, though vendors will be accepted from across the seven-county area. Vendor applications are expected to go live on the township website in mid-March. The market will accept raw agricultural products (fruits, veggies, and other produce), value-added agricultural items (baked goods, soap, cheese, etc.), small wine vendors, wildcrafted/foraged items, and food trucks.

“We’re hoping to have it be a community space with picnic tables, where people can sit and eat and shop,” says LaSusa. “We have this great, beautiful property, and we want to share it with everyone.”

The market time – Thursday evening – was deliberately chosen to avoid overlapping with other local farmers markets like the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market, which operates Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and The Village at Grand Traverse Commons farmers market, which runs on Monday afternoons in the summer. Township officials hope the East Bay farmers market will offer a convenient place for families to stop by after school (while still in session) or on the way home from work. For commuters looking to avoid the Grandview Parkway construction starting next Sunday and running through November, the market will also offer east-side residents an option on their side of town.

The farmers market is part of a larger vision for the East Bay Township Hall property, located near the busy intersection of Three Mile and Hammond roads in East Bay Corners – the commercial district on Hammond Road between Precision Drive and Vanderlip Road. The township’s master plan envisions that district essentially serving as a type of “downtown” for East Bay, clustering services like schools, grocery stores, gas stations, shopping, and more. Plans are in place to build more sidewalk and trail connections through and to East Bay Corners, including through Safe Routes to Schools and the TART Trails project to extend the Three Mile Trail from South Airport Road up to Hammond.

Township officials see having a “food security incubator” right in the center of that hub as offering a key service for residents. In addition to a food distribution program already in place and the launch of the new farmers market, East Bay hopes to establish a community garden on the property. Township staff are awaiting word on a $100,000 grant application that could help fund that launch, with a required 30 percent township match to come in the form of a program manager who could help oversee both the farmers market and community garden.

If the grant application is successful – township officials should learn if it’s approved in April – it would fund construction on a portion of phase one of a two-phase master plan for the community garden. The initial launch could include 18 garden beds to be used by a mix of residents and community partners, which could include groups like Traverse Area District Library and MSU Extension. LaSusa hopes other groups like SEEDS and Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology will also get involved, offering educational resources and training at the community garden. The garden is envisioned to include a mix of raised planted beds and crop-style row beds planted directly in the ground, as well as ADA-accessible beds. If grant funding is successful this year, construction could start in late summer or fall – with the goal of a first planting in 2025.

The master plan eventually calls for amenities like more garden beds, solar panels, rain barrels, a garden shed, benches, a story walk, a pollinator garden, and more. Local consulting firms including Beckett & Raeder and Placecraft helped work on the garden master plan, which was shaped by community input. LaSusa says the overall goal on the township property is to support local farmers and food producers and provide healthier options to residents – with the opportunity to expand programming on the site over time.

“There’s a lot of development pressure on East Bay Township, and we value our agricultural land and humans who work in agriculture. We want to create another avenue for them to be successful,” LaSusa says. “The program also could potentially expand. It’d be amazing to see a community kitchen, for example, for cooking demonstrations and things like that. It has the flexibility to grow over time.”

Pictured: East Bay Township Hall

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