Northern Market will put Grayling on the map as a regional food hub
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Three years of planning will start to come to fruition when the Grayling Farmer’s Market opens for the season in a couple of weeks.
The City of Grayling recently obtained the property where ProBuild was located at 2059 South I-75 Business Loop. The building has been vacant for several years.
Ownership of the building will actually be held by the Grayling Agricultural and Education Center, a year round market for northern Michigan food, products, and a training center.
The Grayling Agricultural and Education Center is city-sponsored 5O1-C3 corporation made up of local and regional business owners and officials.
The Grayling Farmer’s Market will be located outside of the building during the spring, summer, and fall months, and inside during the winter months.
Along with offering food, meats, fruits, and vegetables, the market will also include artists, crafts, and woodworking and a selection of beers and wines.
“It’s meant to be a showcase of northern Michigan produced goods, centered around the food market, but there will be more than food in there for sure,” said Doug Paulus, the project director for the Grayling Agricultural and Education Center.
Based on a recent community health assessment, Crawford County’s low income adult population has an overweight and obesity rate of 69.2 percent with an inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption of 85.7 percent.
Along with improving the health of area residents, the market will serve as an attraction to the 14,000 motorists that come on and off I-75 through Grayling daily.
“We’re going to get them on the way up and we’re going to get them on the way back,” Paulus said.
The market will feature rest rooms and a play area for children in hopes that northern Michigan visitors will purchase products from vendors.
“It’s a destination market, but the project is much bigger than that,” Paulus said.
Local egg, maple syrup, apple cider, and honey producers will be able to rent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified production facilities in the building in order to offer their products to a larger range of customers. Tourists and others who attend the market will also be able to view the production processes.
At the back of the property, Rory Royston is planning to build a meat market, which will have 10 employees.
“It’s an old fashioned butcher shop where there is the cow hanging and they cut the steaks off of it,” Paulus said. “That’s one of the showcases.”
Sam Maniaci, the owner of Leonardo’s Produce, will also operate a warehouse and food distribution center on the property. Leonardo’s Produce services the iconic Eastern Market in Detroit and stores and restaurants in Grand Rapids and northern Michigan.
“During the season, he will be buying from our farmers and selling their stuff inside the market,” Paulus said.
In turn, food grown in northern Michigan will be picked up and distributed in metropolitan area downstate.
“This local food now finally has a true market,” Paulus said.
Paulus said the market builds on the concept of traditional farmer’s market, which has little growth potential. In addition, federal and state officials are striving to cut down the radius from where food comes to serve smaller communities to avoid instances such as the California food crisis, which started to limit the food supply due to several years of drought conditions.
“Because of this food flowing back and forth, the food economy will be the next thing and grows our main street,” Paulus said.
There will be a business incubator with three USDA-certified kitchens that entrepreneurs can rent to launch their food ventures.
The training center aspect of the facility will involve food preparation and food safety, farm and garden education, greenhouses as well as other education programs.
The classes will be offered by Moran Iron Works, a custom steel fabrication firm based in Onaway. The business established the Industrial Arts Institute to prepare students and to retrain others for careers in welding and the building trades. The training center in Grayling will be operated under the same educational certification.
Students from any schools in northern Michigan and existing restaurant employees will be able to access the classes.
“The restaurant industry is screaming for quality help, and they’re also absolutely handcuffed by the classes that they have to take and are not available in northern Michigan,” Paulus said.
Students attending the classes will be able to enhance the dining experience at area restaurants from beginning to end.
“We’ll have people that know how to service a customer all the way around,” said Therese Kaiser, the farm market manager for the Grayling Agricultural and Education Center.
Locally, Paulus said the Crawford AuSable School District has fully engaged in the market and training center in hopes of receiving funding for greenhouses that will produce food and vegetables served in school cafeterias.
“It’s amazing the funding that is out there, but it takes a community to pull it off,” Paulus said.
Paulus, who has background in economic development, public safety, and health care, said the project will result in a $5 million investment in Grayling when federal and state grant funding is received. He said the market and training center will build on businesses that have recently set up shop in Grayling.
“We know the money is going through town,” he said. “Now, we have to create the experience.”
The Grayling Farm Market will open for the season on Thursday, May 25, which will give local residents an opportunity to learn more about the market and training center.
“We’re not taking the farm market aspect away,” Paulus said. “We’re going to enhance it.”
Gov. Rick Snyder provided an agricultural and economic development facilitator, and a business administrator through the Small Business Administration, to assist with the project. The market and training center is expected to be fully operational in the summer of 2018.