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Fulton Street Farmers Market pays homage to tradition and progress

The Fulton Street Farmers Market is home to history, tradition and new additions in the 2013 season. The Rapidian sat down with local historian and food hub consultant for the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems to learn more.
Fulton Street Farmers Market circa 1922.

Fulton Street Farmers Market circa 1922. /courtesy of Grand Rapids Archives

Market Hours

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 8-3 p.m.

AND Wednesday evening: 4-7 p.m.


/Amy Hinman

As the oldest outdoor market in Grand Rapids, the Fulton Street Farmers Market has seen a lot. From several near burnouts, to a revival in recent years, the transformation in the market has seen changes in everything from the space to the produce.

While the market at Fulton Street is the longest standing in Grand Rapids, it was not the first. The first market was located on a small strip of land between Market Street and the Grand River. This market was meant to service the people without access to refrigeration or other practical means of food storage living in the area. Buying direct was also a way to try to combat the spiking food prices at the time.

When the original market opened in 1912, farmers were slated to sell directly to the general public. Their efforts were swayed by the money and power of the grocers that bought their product.

“The market failed miserably. And the reason it failed miserably is because the grocers said to the farmers ‘if you sell to customers, I won’t buy from you.’ And they boycotted any farmer that would sell direct,” says Jayson Otto. “No one showed up.”

Not to be deterred, Eva Hamilton, the future first woman senator, decided to speak for the people. In 1916, when the city was still working hard to shut down the farmers market efforts. Hamilton then attended city meetings, armed with petitions that would keep the markets open and out of the grocers’ control.

“[Hamilton] went to the committee and said ‘you need to ignore what the grocers are saying. People need [farmers markets].’ And she won,” says Otto.  “Which was pretty cool, because she was sitting on this committee before she could vote.”

A market was then established on Leonard Street, by the river, where it remained until the '60s. The Leonard Street Market was wildly successful in the early years, drawing as many as 1,500 to 2,000 people to a space, and was four times the size of the Fulton Street Farmers Market.

Due to the success of the Leonard Street Market and citizen petitions, the Fulton Street Farmers Market opened in 1922.

The space has changed over the years. A market building was added in 1927, and an addition to that building was constructed in 1932. In the ‘30s, petitions again kept the market alive.

“They tried to close it in the '30s because the parking was so bad, which I think is hilarious, because we have the same problem now,” says Otto.

The Fulton Street Farmers Market went on to survive the urban renewal of the 1960’s, though the same re-development that claimed the Leonard Street Market. Most markets, including Fulton Street, were slow in the 80’s, often resorting to “flea-markety stuff,” says Otto, just to stay afloat. Growers and re-sellers were side-by-side in the market, contention that still persists. However, the market atmosphere that exists today began more at the turn of the century—right when the performers started showing up.

“The farmers hated it,” says Otto. “They didn’t look at it like value added, they viewed it more as a distraction to the market. There’s an interesting disconnect between what market-goers feel the market is, and what a vendor feels a market is. They don’t want a festival atmosphere, they want it to be a farmers market. At least they used to. But things are changing.”

History, in a broad sense, could be repeating itself. While large grocers do dominate much of how Grand Rapids buys food, Otto said he has seen a shift in shoppers going back to the market, and to supporting local farmers. Perhaps the drive to go "back to the land" is still lingering, fueled by green campaigns and gleaming new farmers markets. However, the return might be more closely aligned with the original purpose of the market.

“It’s community. People go [to the Fulton Street Farmers Market] to feel connected, to be social,” says Otto.  “It’s the best market in West Michigan.”


The Fulton Street Farmers Market is open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., and from 4-7 p.m. on Wednesday.

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