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Fulton Street Farmer's Market Takes on the Winter

/Photos by Megan Smith

Underwriting support from:

Nourishing Ways of West Michigan

Nourishing Ways of West Michigan (NWWM) is a nonprofit organization devoted to educating the public on nutrient dense foods and their importance in our diets. Additionally, they help point community members towards local sources of organic fruits, vegetables, grains, pasture-fed livestock, eggs, and dairy products.

During the spring, summer, and fall months, the  Fulton Street Farmer's Market is crawling with natural food junkies, organic vegan enthusiasts, and Grand Rapidians who just love good quality food. And if you’ve ever been there, you may have noticed that there’s a certain energy present as you walk down that main central aisle—farmers smiling behind their multi-color array of fruits and vegetables, questions being asked about where and how the food was grown, and people who just seem to walk a little bit more lively knowing that they’re surrounded by so much real food. It’s one of my favorite places. But it’s winter now, and it seems that those days of fresh food browsing are just a mirage in the distance.

That is until I discovered that the FSFM is still open. Despite claims on their Web site and on the on-site sign that it is only open from May to December, swing by the block-long market on Saturdays from 10a.m. to 3p.m. and you will find a handful of vendors braving the cold to bring you fresh, local food.  Free range meat, honey, homemade ice cream, and even a bit of produce cover the tables. 
The extended winter hours are a relatively new development, beginning only in January of this year. Mary Wills of Crane Dance Farm in Middleville explained how it all came to be. “In the past years we’ve all done some winter drop-offs at the market.  We finally decided that we might as well all get together on a regular schedule.” So that’s what they did.  I counted eight different vendors this past Saturday from produce to pottery to homemade dog treats. Though the current number of vendors is small, Wills has high hopes for next winter. “This was kind of a last minute decision,” she stated, “but hopefully next year more farmers will be able to prepare and have produce that will last through the season.”
The vendors vary from weekend to weekend, but year-round products like various selections of meat seem to always make an appearance. “It’s hard with the vegetables and produce because of the season,” said Wills, “ but our product [pasture fed meat] is produced year round.”
While 1lb packages of ground beef and packs of sausages are available, don’t skip over the poultry just because the idea of buying a whole bird is daunting. Don’t know what you’d do with a whole, pasture-fed chicken? Neither did I, but I liked the idea of returning to a traditional way of eating. I asked one of the vendors, and he excitedly explained the process: “First you want to place the chicken, breast side down and cut the flabs of skin between each of the legs. Pull the legs back and feel the spot where the bones attach. Cut with your knife right between them. You do the same to separate the thigh from the leg and for the wings too. To get to the breast meat, flip the chicken over and slice right down the breastbone. Then, working with your knife as close to the bone as possible, begin to slice away the meat.” 
This, of course, wasn’t very understandable to an amateur cook, so when I got home I checked out the Web site of a local Grand Rapids organization called Nourishing Ways that works to connect the community to nutrient dense, local food sources. Right on the home page, I found two video links that showed me the whole-chicken cutting process.  I am proud to say that this beginner cook, bought, cut, and cooked a pasture-fed whole chicken from the farmers market last weekend. If I can do it, you certainly can. 
“It’s exciting that extending farmers’ markets into the winter is becoming a new trend,” said Willis, and I wholeheartedly agree. So what are you waiting for? Throw on a scarf and your wool mittens and head to the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market. Bring home some potatoes and onions or even take a challenge and buy that whole chicken. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to fall into the ways of good eating.

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