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Port Austin Farmers Market Considered Among
the Best in Michigan

By Judy Binkley

Location: Eastern Michigan (thumb)
Population: 737

Port Austin farmers market

Port Austin's farmers market was ranked in the top 10 in the state by Travel Michigan magazine.

John and Lisa Pridnia, that’s what. Retired State Senator John Pridnia and his wife Lisa settled in Port Austin, attracted by its natural beauty, breathtaking shore line, small town atmosphere, and friendly folks. But something was missing. After much soul searching, they realized that right in the heart of farm country, there was no designated place to purchase fresh home grown produce. Port Austin should have a farmers market!

Of course, you have to know John and Lisa; what a team! Every community has a few people like them, and if they don’t they sure wish they did...the self-motivated, highly driven individuals that make “stuff” happen.

John began by picking a suitable location. There was a lot of thought behind that decision. It had to be highly visible and in the downtown area. He wanted “The Market” to be within walking distance of local stores and restaurants. It would be a win-win situation for everyone—people would come downtown, visit the market, walk to the other stores in the community, stop, shop, and have breakfast or lunch.

Guess what? That is exactly what happened! The market gives the local farmers a place to offer their products, consumers a place to purchase them, and at the same time provides economic growth to local business.

Six years ago John hit the pavement and went door to door to each business and farmer within a 20-mile radius and sometimes beyond...convincing anyone and everyone from jam-making grandmas to people selling kites, fish, or yard swings that it would be worth their while to join the market. One of John’s goals was to offer a great variety of items and make the market a fun place with something that would appeal to everyone.

Port Austin farmers market, flowers

Vendors at the farmers market quickly grew from 65 to over 700. It has turned into "the place to be."

With a lot of determination and hard work, the Pridnia’s vision became reality, and a tremendous success for the community. Currently the market has a huge array of flowers, fish (smoked and fresh), vegetables, baked goods, jewelry, purses, yard furniture and ornaments, dried and fresh flower arrangements, puppies, rabbits, you name it. Many local artists display their wares: jewelry, paintings, wood displays. It gives local entrepreneurs a venue to test their products.

The market has grown from 65 vendors to a list of 700. Some vendors are seasonal and not available every weekend. On average, each Saturday there are anywhere from 150 to 250 vendors on site. There is something for everyone.

The market has not only become a place to buy and sell, but it is “the place” to be. It is a social event for everyone—young, old, local resident, or tourist. It is a place to catch up on local events, visit with neighbors, reunite with old friends, make new ones, and maybe even get some good gossip. It’s where you find everyone on Saturday morning from May to October.

John and Lisa’s ideas are endless and only exceeded by their energy. One Saturday is totally dedicated to children in the form of the Annual “Kids Day” including: face painting, hair braiding, petting zoo, dance instructions, and a local fire truck just to mention a few items. Another week is dedicated to antique farm equipment.

The market is run like a well-oiled machine. John and Lisa are at the market location bright and early every Saturday morning, 5:30 am to be exact. They set up tables, trash receptacles, direct vendors where to unload, where to park their vehicle, and do whatever else needs to be done. The Pridnias, however, will be the first to tell you that this tremendous undertaking could not be possible without many volunteers. Every week there are usually six people who give of their time to make the market run, and, more important, their Saturday morning sleep-in. On holiday weekends there are even more—often fifteen or more dedicated people show up to do whatever is necessary to make the market work. At the close of the market at 1:00 pm another group of volunteers appear to clean up. At 2:00 pm you would never know anything took place on that spot. It’s like magic. The only tip-off is the location looks better than when it all started early that morning.

Each year John strives to improve the market. This year some of the gravel areas will be paved, allowing for additional handicap accessibility.

Port Austin farmers market, apples

Port Austin's farmers market strives to offer a great variety of items and also a fun experience.

The only food concession is supplied by a Christian Youth Group. Under adult supervision, the youth prepare hot dogs, nachos, coffee, and other delicacies. The profits help send the children on trips and other activities. Every weekend the local riding stable provides free horse-drawn wagon rides throughout the village. To keep things lively, music to suit just about everyone‘s taste is piped throughout the market, and whenever possible live entertainment is provided.

It is truly amazing what a couple of dedicated people with a vision can do for a community. The market has grown to overflowing capacity and is a tremendous asset to the community. Port Austin is alive again. What a great success story. Oh, and guess what? This little farmers market has been named one of the top 10 in the state by Travel Michigan magazine.

Thanks John, Lisa, and your band of volunteers for giving everyone another reason to love Port Austin. If you don’t live there, you surely will want to visit often.

The opening of “The Market” each year is as anticipated as seeing that first robin in spring. Port Austin just can’t wait.

Farmers Markets

The number of farmers markets in the U.S. has increased 170 percent over the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2009, farmers markets around the country totaled over $1.2 billion in sales for the year.

Supporting the Community. Shopping at your local farmers market helps to support your local farmers. It also provides a sense of community, and keeps money in your community.

Going Green. Shopping at your local farmers market is environmentally friendly—the produce avoids a transport process that can often involve taking food thousands of miles to reach its destination. The fuel savings is better for the planet and keeps additional shipping costs out of food prices.

Eating Fresh. When foods are shipped over state or even just county lines, the time involved begins to break down the food’s nutritive value. By the time it reaches a store’s produce department, food may have been picked days or even a week prior. At the farmers market, everything has been freshly picked, so you know you are getting fresher, more nutritious food.

Farmers Market Coalition “Farmers Markets Report” www.ams.usda.gov. To find a farmers market in your community, log on to www.localharvest.org and enter your zip code.

 

Judy Binkley is the retired Port Austin Village Clerk. You may contact her at jbinkley08@centurytel.net.

 

 

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