The Rapidian Home

Downtown Market offers programs to supply low-income peope with food, business skills

Grand Rapids Downtown Market is offering a variety of free initiatives designed to benefit low-income residents of the Heartside neighborhood, including distributing bus passes and vouchers for vendor produce.

Downtown Market

435 Ionia Ave. SW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503


“We’re part of the Heartside neighborhood and we consider ourselves part of the neighborhood,” says Mimi Fritz, president of the Downtown Market. “If we’re needed for something we’re here. We want to make sure we’re not excluding anybody in any way.”

Since opening last fall the Downtown Market on Ionia has offered a variety of local goods and produce with the desire to “serve as a focal point within the city while revitalizing a previously neglected area,” according to the venue’s website. But Fritz emphasizes that revitalizing the area does not equate to excluding people living in the historically low-income Heartside neighborhood.

“We’re active in the Heartside neighborhood and in the Heartside Business Association, and we work with a lot of the organizations in the neighborhood,” says Fritz. “Our scholarship program allows low-income people to take [food] classes for free at the Market, and we aren’t waiting for people to apply. We are actively looking for people.”

Food classes are part of the series of Market programs designed for Heartside neighborhood people struggling financially. $10 vouchers for market produce are consistently distributed alongside free bus passes for transportation to and from the venue as part of the Market’s Produce Club program. FoodWorks, a program designed for low-income people interested in culinary business, is offered by the Market for free. Fritz says that a Market staff member regularly meets with executives from neighborhood agencies and community groups to present the programs and deliver Produce Club cards, bus passes and scholarship information.

“People don’t know that these programs are taking place and there are a lot of assumptions we aren’t playing an active role,” says Fritz. “We’re going out and actively seeking groups to partner with us and distribute the Produce Club, the scholarships and the bus passes.”

Fritz says that all indoor vendors are required to take food assistance program vouchers, although some of them are still going through the qualification process. The Market also encourages the construction of hoop houses through Michigan State University’s hoop house program. Farmers who take out a loan to build a hoop house can use vouchers from low-income assistance programs to help pay off their loans.

“We’ve stepped in by applying to be a farmer’s market that supports this program to low-income neighborhoods in the community as well as farmers that participate,” says Fritz. “This state-wide program is supplying healthy, fresh produce to folks that are low-income.”

Marge Palmerlee, executive director of Degage Minisitries in Heartside, is pleased with the Market’s community involvement.

“The Market’s being very intentional about being inclusive of people from all levels of the social spectrum,” she says. “They’re offering special classes for people [Degage] serves, and they’ll work with us on time slots. We’re excited to be working with them.”

Palmerlee says that the Market regularly asks for volunteers from the ministry.

“They’ll call us and say, “Send a couple people over to help us with distributing flyers,” and the folks we serve love that. They love to have something to give,” she says.

The Market is currently designing a new “formatted” volunteer program, as well as considering events like free yoga classes in Heartside Park this summer. Fritz says that any events held in the park will continue efforts to have the entire community participate.

“The Heartside community is encouraging us to do [events] in Heartside park,” she says. “It’s a community and neighborhood park, and we don’t have an interest in taking the park over. We want to make sure that whatever we do in the park involves everybody.”

Fritz says that people who believe the Market isn’t playing an active role in the Heartside community probably aren’t aware of the Market’s programs.

“Maybe we should be better about talking about things we do in the community, but we’re really trying to focus these types of programs to the people that can use them so we’re not talking to the community as a whole,” she says.

“I invite anyone to come down and check [the Market] out. If anybody has questions we have a staff that’s more than willing to talk about these great programs and we’d love to give [people] all the details.”

More information about the Downtown Market can be found at or by calling the Market at 616-805-5308.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.