Buying local is an important concept for DFFC because we believe a strong food and agriculture economy in Michigan can impact improvements in public health through better access to healthy food for all citizens. And there’s no better way to access fresh food than through shopping at one of many southeast Michigan farmers’ markets. Since it’s fast approaching farmers’ market season, we thought we’d provide you a slice of life from the field.
Sharon Ostrowski owns Sharkar Farms in China, Michigan, which is in St. Clair County. She makes a living through the food she grows to sell at farmers’ markets. She has farmed her whole life, from helping on the family farm when she was young, to managing a 300-acre farm at age 19, to owning the 17-acre farm that she now runs, which services eight southeast Michigan farmers’ markets six days a week in the summer and fall. She grows an assortment of vegetables, including 47 varieties of tomatoes and 167 varieties of herbs.
Does your whole family help on the farm?
Four of my seven kids are involved, running the markets and helping with mechanical repairs on the farm equipment. My husband works four 10s [10-hour shifts] at Ford, so he can help me on Friday.
Where do you sell your produce?
On Tuesdays at Vantage Point Farmers’ Market in Port Huron; on Wednesdays in Lathrup Village; on Thursdays at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital; on Fridays in Dearborn; on Saturdays in Rochester and Port Huron; and on Sundays in Warren, Clawson and New Baltimore.
Also we started a pilot program last year working with Anchor Bay Schools, providing lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli. It’s going well. The kids aren’t throwing as much out.
How do you believe small farmers like yourself are contributing to a healthy regional food system?
We do more than even the big farmers. We don’t use as much pesticide. I remind my customers that my kids play in these fields. Also, it’s direct. It’s picked one day, and goes out the next. It’s good products at a decent price.
How can small farmers contribute to creating better access to healthy food for marginalized people?
A lot of the smaller markets are not in high rent zones. Even the Royal Oak Beaumont Farmers’ Market isn’t what I consider a high rent zone. Nor is Port Huron. Customers are not having to pay top dollar. We don’t need a lot of money. We’re not looking to get a yacht; we just want to make a decent living.
What shifts have you seen in farming over the years, in terms of people in southeast Michigan understanding the importance of buying/eating local and supporting local farmers?
There has been a huge push in the buying of local food and a lot more awareness. There are so many more farmers’ markets now too, which isn’t easy for us because we have to go all around.
What can the average Michigan citizen do to support local farmers such as yourself?
Understanding that it takes work to get good food to the table. Brussels sprouts don’t come from a box.
The Michigan Farmers Market Association defines a farmers market as “a public and recurring assembly of farmers or their representatives selling direct-to-consumer food and products which they have produced themselves.” To find a local market near you, try searching the MIFMA website or Detroit Community Markets website.