Detroit’s Eastern Market: Connecting People with Food & Opportunity Since 1891

by Andrea Zuehlk

Partner, The Vella Group
Published On: November 22, 2022Categories: Insights, Nonprofit Profiles

It’s that time of year when hosting and planning events seems to go into hyperdrive. Regardless of the occasion – holidays, birthdays, weddings or other celebrations – we often start with the food. The meal could have various courses or a special theme. It could be a long-time favorite prepared with love, a spread steeped in culture and tradition, or something prepared with farm-fresh ingredients and local fare. The meal could be for two or 200.

The ingredients for these meals are just as varied and storied as the meal itself. I once heard a harrowing tale of hunting down zucchini flowers for a grandmother’s recipe. Often, the ability to find unique, traditional or specialty ingredients comes from talking to someone “in the know” who can help connect us to what we’re looking for.

Each meal, each ingredient, each preparation method has a story. Food brings us together to connect, share, nourish, learn and explore. Detroit’s Eastern Market has been fulfilling this role for more than 130 years. And while you may be familiar with Flower Day and the Saturday Market, I’m certain there are many things about Eastern Market that will surprise you, as they did for all of us at The Vella Group.

Wholesale Market Supports Local Food Businesses

In addition to the public markets, a vibrant wholesale market operates at Eastern Market from midnight to 6 a.m. Monday through Friday. This operation gives Eastern Market the “working market” moniker as semi-trucks are loaded and unloaded via forklift to supply restaurants, schools, grocery stores, food processors, farm stands and events. The wholesale market is easy to miss but is one of the most valuable assets supporting local food businesses. It’s open to businesses and consumers alike – anyone looking to buy in bulk.

Community Kitchen Helps Food Entrepreneurs Get Started

Food entrepreneurs need access to a commercial kitchen, which can be a challenge to find. Thankfully, Detroit Kitchen Connect provides food entrepreneurs with a network of licensed, food-safe, shared-use cooking space to get started building a food business. One such space is the Eastern Market Community Kitchen, located onsite in Shed 5. There are plenty of windows, so you can peer into the kitchen space to see what’s cooking. Once a food business has “graduated” out of the shared-use community kitchen, The Eastern Market Accelerator offers five production facilities for businesses that need dedicated food-safe space in order to scale. The Eastern Market Partnership has helped nearly 100 food businesses and entrepreneurs scale their businesses.

Farm Stands Give Detroit Affordable Access to Food

Eastern Market operates 24 mobile pop-up farm stands each week from mid-May through mid-October, offering fresh produce at sites all around Metro Detroit. These farm stands provide convenient and affordable access to nutrient-dense foods. Food access is at the core of Eastern Market, and each farm stand is equipped to accept all currencies including cash, credit/debit, EBT, Double Up Food Bucks, WIC Project FRESH and Senior Market FRESH. The farm stands seek to promote a culture of wellness in the City of Detroit and Southeast Michigan.

Food Hub Expands Market Opportunities for Smaller Growers, Producers

The USDA defines a food hub as “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”  By actively coordinating these activities through a food hub, small to mid-sized growers and producers have access to markets they otherwise wouldn’t have. GROW Eastern Market (GEM) is Detroit’s locavore food hub connection. By aggregating, processing and distributing local food products, GEM can assist growers in healthy business growth, and expand new market channels for these small and emerging Michigan growers. Think of GEM as: DIRT. DOCK. DOOR. Locally grown and harvested fresh foods from Michigan farms are brought to GEM loading docks. From there, the food is aggregated, processed, packaged and delivered to your door.

Public Markets Offer Food, Flowers & Gifts Year Round

Synonymous with Eastern Market are Flower Day and the Saturday Market. Flower Day takes place every year on the Sunday after Mother’s Day and has been a tradition of Eastern Market since 1967. The Saturday Market is uniquely Detroit, featuring more than 225 market vendors and 45,000 visitors during the busy season. The tradition of the Saturday Market has been a cornerstone of the city for 130 years.

Beyond these well-known markets are the Sunday Market, Tuesday Market and Holiday Market. The Sunday Market expands beyond a traditional farmers market to a street market. It showcases the work of local artists, cooks, jewelers, musicians and more, offering the perfect chance to discover items for one-of-a-kind and distinctly Detroit gifts.

The Tuesday Market is a scaled-down farmers market, perfect for stocking up on fresh produce, baked goods and meats. It runs June through September from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Sheds 2 and 3. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving offers a special market focused primarily on food vendors for your holiday meals.

Special Holiday Markets in November and December give you a chance to find great gifts for loved ones. Specialty markets for the harvest season and the holiday season provide an opportunity to select festive holiday décor. You can pick out your family’s perfect Christmas tree at the Tree Market outside Shed 5, which operates seven days a week starting around Thanksgiving.

Eastern Market: Connecting with Food

Food brings us together to connect, share, nourish, learn and explore. For generations, Eastern Market has been a place for people of all walks of life to connect with food, connect with each other and find opportunity – in ways many Metro Detroiters already know and in others that may surprise you.

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