Eastern Market: A celebration of community, local farming and good food

“Everybody talks about Detroit as a food desert,” says Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corporation (EMC), “but it’s really a place desert, a city without enough places for people to gather.” Carmody continues: “When people think about Eastern Market, they tend to think of food. To me, the market is 50 percent food and 50 percent people from all walks of life getting together. Eastern Market is a celebration of the neighborhood.”

A place for everyone in the city
Among present-day public markets, Eastern Market has something special: a 120-year connection to the city, with customers whose ties go back generations and historic character that comes only with age. Nearly everyone in Detroit, it seems, has a family connection to the market.

The market encompasses a veritable campus of historic brick buildings and outdoor spaces that spans five city blocks. It’s both a wholesale distribution center, where growers sell to retailers and restaurants during the early morning hours, and a vibrant retail market, with 30,000 to 40,000 customers on Saturdays. The diverse crowd comes from across the metro area to buy food from Michigan and the surrounding region or to share a meal, listen to live music or simply enjoy each other’s company.

Established in 1891 at its current location near downtown Detroit, Eastern Market lies at the heart of the even larger Eastern Market District, which includes historic Gratiot Central Market and independent shops, restaurants and galleries. In EMC’s grand vision for the neighborhood, Eastern Market remains a working food district but incorporates a mix of uses, including mid-density housing, with strong connections to places of work, living, play and shopping elsewhere in the city.

An expanded role as a regional food hub
In 2006, the nonprofit EMC began a series of improvements to the market stalls and other facilities that continues today. Under Carmody’s leadership, the market has blossomed into a robust food hub, leveraging its infrastructure – warehouse space, delivery and information systems, processing facilities, marketing and financial know-how – to reconnect the city to regionally grown food that’s healthy, green, fair and affordable.

Even as Eastern Market develops as the heart of a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood and a pivot point in the food system, it’s pioneering innovative ways to engage everyone in the city, including those who lack access to good food where they live.

Addressing demand as well as supply
 “What we've learned,” says Carmody, “is that food access is as much a demand problem as a supply problem.” Over several generations, Carmody explains, many city residents have become used to buying their food from what is often their only option, the corner convenience store. To increase demand, Eastern Market is reaching out to underserved communities, providing education on healthy food and encouraging healthy eating.

To make it easier for low-income families to afford healthy produce, Eastern Market participates in Double Up Food Bucks, a program run by WKKF grantee Fair Food Network. A shopper using a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) card at Eastern Market can receive a match of up to $20 in Double Up Food Bucks tokens, which can be used to buy Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables, benefitting the state’s farmers along with city consumers.

For those who can’t make it to the market, the Eastern Market Farm Stand comes to them. Through partnerships with community-based organizations and neighborhood groups, the Farm Stand’s green pop-up tents supply fresh produce to neighborhoods with limited access to healthy food, while serve as ambassadors to the main market.

Eastern Market also partners with Gleaners Community Food Bank on Fresh Food Share, a community food program that delivers pre-ordered boxes of food to senior sites and community centers. From June through November, when the boxes are full of regionally grown produce, customers with Double Up Food Bucks can use them toward a food box.

Connecting to Detroit’s future generations
In addition to sourcing and supplying good food, Eastern Market seeks to educate and engage everyone in the city, especially children. Through one the market’s more spirited ventures, Meet Up and Eat Up with the Detroit Lions, players and the executive chef from the Lions football team join a class of young students at the market for a healthy lunch. The students get vouchers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and the Lions’ chef shows them how to prepare the fruits and vegetables they just bought.

As part of the Detroit School Garden Collaborative, Eastern Market is working with the Detroit Public Schools to create 45 school gardens. And in close partnership with Betti Wiggins, executive director of the Office of School Nutrition for Detroit Public Schools, Eastern Market is helping build the supply chain that will enable the district to switch 30 percent of the food on its menu from highly processed to locally grown. “Agriculture is the second largest economy in the state,” Wiggins says of Michigan, “so it makes sense that I would buy local.” Eastern Market is helping turn good sense into reality.

Grant Details

Eastern Market Corporation

Detroit, Michigan, United States

Advance the creation of an inclusive, resilient and robust regional food hub to increase food access in underserved areas and expedite the growth of food businesses

Working Families
Jan. 1, 2014 - Dec. 31, 2017

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