John Spens of Geier Farms sets up at the Detroit Farmers Market, Saturday, May 2, 2020, in Detroit. Farmers, growers and operators of open-air markets are heading into one of their busiest times of year while facing the added challenge of the coronavirus. Shoppers venturing to farmers markets this spring are likely to see a lot fewer vendors and fellow customers. The ones they do see will be taking precautions such as the wearing of face masks and frequent use of hand sanitizer. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
John Spens of Geier Farms sets up at the Detroit Farmers Market, Saturday, May 2, 2020, in Detroit. Farmers, growers and operators of open-air markets are heading into one of their busiest times of year while facing the added challenge of the coronavirus. Shoppers venturing to farmers markets this spring are likely to see a lot fewer vendors and fellow customers. The ones they do see will be taking precautions such as the wearing of face masks and frequent use of hand sanitizer. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Plus, we’ve got your round-up of where you can go to still support our local Michigan farmers and get the season’s homegrown goods. 

WEST MICHIGAN — With restaurants closed and labor shortages during planting season, Michigan farms have taken a serious hit from the pandemic novel coronavirus. But Michigan farmers are adapting to survive. 

In Michigan, they are turning towards unique ways to stay rooted in the community, like virtual farmers markets. 

We’ve got your look at how Michigan farmers are coping and where you can go to get the season’s best produce. 

A Struggling Industry Hit Harder 

Farms had already been struggling. The trade wars between the U.S. and China had devastated the agricultural sector, CNBC reports. And climate change’s disruption of norma growing weather wasn’t helping either. On top of that, some types of fruit were seeing plagues sweeping across their crops. And then there was another plague: the coronavirus.

Talking to Slate, one farmer said: “We’re in a save-our-farm-from-collapsing mode.”

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And it isn’t even just the reduced demand today worrying Michigan farmers. What happens if restaurants those farms supply close for good as a result of the pandemic?

“I’m worried about the businesses that we are in business with, that we are supplying … this is going to be quite difficult for some of them to even survive,” said  Carlson of Carlson Farm in Kalamazoo to the Detroit News. “Just like you worry about a family member, we have to realize that these businesses and individuals aren’t disposable in this world that we’ve grown to know. Whatever it takes, we have to be ready to help rebuild Southwest Michigan.”

So, farms have been getting creative in addressing the problems posed by the coronavirus hitting a fragile agricultural economy. One farm in Oxford, for instance, is hosting Zoom meetings with a baby goat. It costs $40.

But not all farms are able to have livestreams of baby animals as supplemental business models. Others have turned to the internet to aid their businesses in more conventional ways. 

A New Idea Taking Root in Michigan: Facebook Farmers’ Markets

The REKO Market (pronounced RA-ko, from the Swedish “rejäl konsumtion” meaning fair consumption) is an alliance of thirteen small-scale sustainable farms in West Michigan, based primarily around Ada and Holland, that takes orders through Facebook groups and delivers to specified pick-up locations weekly. 

REKO is a modern, socially-distanced farmer’s market. And the concept wasn’t even born from the coronavirus. 

Heather Anderson, farm manager at Green Wagon Farms in Ada, said she and colleagues were introduced to the concept by Swedish farmer Richard Perkins at the Northern Michigan Farm Conference in 2019. Hence the Swedish-derived name Reko. 

“There are so many great things about REKO for the consumer,” she told the Grand Rapids Business Journal. “But for us, the presale market is efficient, eliminates wasted product we might have at the end of a slow day at the farmers market, and requires virtually no setup or tear down,”

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It also is easily adapted to serving a farmers’ market’s audience in a pandemic. REKO will be offering no-contact pickup for orders placed in its Ada and Holland Facebook groups for the foreseeable future. 

But REKO isn’t only a pandemic response, it intends to be a year-round offering. 

Farms participating at REKO’s launch include Green Wagon, Eighth Day, Melody Bee, Crane Dance, Golden Hour, Woodbridge Dairy, Shady Side, St. Steve’s Mud Lake and Visser. 

But Michigan farms aren’t the only participants. Love’s Ice Cream,  Wormies Vermicompost, Saunders Family Bakery and Field and Fire Bakery are also part of REKO.

An up-to-date list of participants can be found here

Not every participating business participates every week, but availability is posted in the Facebook groups weekly. 

The first two REKO Markets are 3-3:30 p.m. Thursday at The Community Church at 7239 Thornapple River Drive SE in Ada, and noon to 1 p.m. in Holland at the Holland Town Center, 12330 James St..

REKO could serve as a model for farmers’ markets across the state to weather the coronavirus storm. 

When Technology Stops: Sustaining Support to Michigan Farmers

There are of course other options. Not all farmers operate through farmers’ markets, or are close enough to population centers to make the REKO model work. Some don’t even have internet access.

Though the Christian Science Monitor reports that small co-ops are helping lay the groundwork for a rural internet infrastructure, that can’t help farmers today take part in REKO-like projects. Other means of support are needed. 

READ MORE: 6 in 10 Farmers Do Not Have Enough Internet​ Connectivity to Run Their Businesses

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans to help farmers by buying $20 million in tart cherries, reports the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Those cherries will help feed the needy, facilitating two levels of emergency coronavirus aid. 

“It’s a good thing for the industry,” Cherry Ke CFO Nels Veliquette said of the purchase, which is part of the federal government’s effort to support business during the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s a good thing for people who need shelf-stable product.”

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) also announced that agriculture businesses can now apply for Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans. These loans are available to Michigan farms with fewer than 500 employees which have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is the first time agricultural producers are eligible for the programs, and it couldn’t come at a more critical moment for Michigan’s food and agriculture industry,” said MDARD Director Gary McDowell in a statement. “Across the country, we are seeing fractures in the food supply chain, and we need every resource available to help weather this storm.”

These federal programs can help Michigan farmers unable to participate in a REKO-style farmers’ market. 

Michigan Markets Open for Business 

In addition to REKO, there are a number of other places people can go to support Michigan farms. Here’s a roundup of some of Michigan’s most dynamic markets and how you can make the most of them this season:

Carrie Simpson shops at the Detroit Farmers Market, Saturday, May 2, 2020, in Detroit. Farmers, growers and operators of open-air markets are heading into one of their busiest times of year while facing the added challenge of the coronavirus. Shoppers venturing to farmers markets this spring are likely to see a lot fewer vendors and fellow customers. The ones they do see will be taking precautions such as the wearing of face masks and frequent use of hand sanitizer. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Oakland County Farmers Market

2350 Pontiac Lake Rd, Waterford Township

It will be open 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Notes: Food sampling is no longer an option. Shoppers are required to wear masks inside the market and strongly encouraged on site. Shoppers and vendors inside the building will be limited to less than 50 at one time

More information: https://www.facebook.com/pg/OaklCountyFarmersMarket

Birmingham Farmers Market

Public Parking Lot 6 at 660 North Old Woodward.

It will be open 9 a.m. to noon Sundays 

Notes: The market will act as a drive-thru. Change will not be provided and items will be placed directly into trunks of vehicles. 

More information: https://www.facebook.com/BIRMINGHAMFARMERSMARKET/

Blocks Stand and Greenhouse

29160 Eureka Rd, Romulus.

It will be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and to 6 p.m. Sunday, with the first hour reserved for seniors on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

Notes: Follow the marked direction arrows. Keep at least 6 feet distance between you and others. In accordance with the CDC and State of Michigan, please remember to wear a face covering to keep everyone safe. 

More information: https://www.facebook.com/Blocks-Stand-Greenhouse-Romulus-MI-118448804852942/

Grand Haven Farmers Market

301 N Harbor Drive, Grand Haven

It will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays in May and Wednesdays and Saturdays from June 3 to Oct. 31.

Notes: Customers will need to wear masks, maintain social distancing, not sample or touch products, and should not linger.

More information: facebook.com/GrandHavenFarmersMarket/

Fulton Street Farmers Market

1145 Fulton St. E, Grand Rapids

It’s open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays starting May 2 through October.

Notes: The market can accommodate 66 customers at a time and customers should line up at the Fulton Street entrance and exit near Fountain Street. 

More information: fultonstreetmarket.org

Holland Farmers Market:

150 West 8th St, Holland

It’s expected to reopen May 13, then open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Notes: The market has compiled a list on how to buy directly from vendors until the market reopens, which you can find here.

More information: hollandfarmersmarket.com

Kalamazoo Farmers Market

1204 Bank Street, Kalamazoo

The market will available for picking up orders only from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays in May. The tentative opening day from the market is June 6.

Notes: In May, people must directly order from vendors through the phone or online

More information: pfcmarkets.com

Muskegon Farmers Market

242 West Western Ave., Muskegon

The outdoor market will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from May 2 through Nov. 30.

Notes: Aisle-ways will be divided and monitored. Vendors must wear masks and gloves and shoppers are highly encouraged to wear masks.

More information: muskegonfarmersmarket.com

Rockford Farmers Market

27 S Squires St. Square, Rockford

It’s open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday from May 2 to Oct. 31.

Notes: Only 50 shoppers will be allowed at a time and they must wear masks and retain proper social distance.

More information: facebook.com/Rockford-MI-Farmers-Market-106213964406655/

Spring Lake Farm & Garden Market

225 E. Exchange St., Spring Lake

It will be open on 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays from June 4 to Oct. 8.

Notes: The market is slated to open June 4 in the parking lot of Harvest Bible Church. 

More information: www.facebook.com/SLFarmGardenMarket/