All Cherries Considered

Cherry Republic Welcome

Cherry Republic—Not Found in Your Rand McNally Atlas!

Or at least all cherry products are considered. In the middle of the charming Michigan town of Glen Arbor, you’ll find a (semi) sovereign state: Cherry Republic. How can that be, you ask. It’s bounded all around by the state of Michigan. Why would there be a country in the middle of another one? Granted, there are historic precedents—look at a map of South Africa and you’ll see the independent state of Lesotho embedded within. But in the United States?

What Kind of a Country Is This, Anyway?

Okay, Cherry Republic isn’t exactly like other states.1 It has no government, no military, no treaties with other states. It lacks a currency, a foreign policy, a population, an anthem. But what it DOES have is every manner of cherry product. It has an ice cream parlor/café featuring various cheese-themed ice cream flavors. Seriously, every ice cream flavor features cherries! It has a Cherry Spitting Arena. And, if you can’t make it to Glen Arbor, it has a website.

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The History (Not in a Nutshell, but in a Cherry Pit)

Bob Sunderland, the founder (emperor?) of Cherry Republic began in 1989 by selling tee shirts and, later, the Boomchunka cherry oatmeal cookie (very good!) from the trunk of his car. Eventually, he branched out into other cherry products. Admirably, the company engages in supporting local cherry farmers. And why just cherries? Well, read below (this has been taken directly from Cherry Republic’s website)

But Bob’s 83-year-old mother has another view of why he started a company that only sells cherries. It’s on a t-shirt that she wears when she works at Cherry Republic. It says, “The owner is a simpleton. Selling more than one fruit would be too complicated for him.”

Cherry Republic grew and now has not only the “headquarters” in Glen Arbor, but it is also located in Traverse City and Charlevoix (in Northern Michigan). An outpost is found in Ann Arbor as well. Given that the tart cherry capital of the United States is Michigan, it’s no wonder that Cherry Republic took off here!

Cherry Republic Pop on Ice

The Wares

So, what kinds of cherry things does Cherry Republic offer? There’s the expected: dried cherries (Montmorency and Balaton), canned organic cherries, cherry pie filling. There’s the delightful: cherry-based trail mix, cherry jams, chocolate-covered cherries. And then there’s the deliciously unusual: cherry peanut butter, cherry salsa (in different varieties), cherry salad dressing. Additionally, in a separate building you’ll find cherry libations of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic sort—cherry wine, cherry cider, cherry sodas. It’s a Cherry Wonderland!

Cherry Republic is just a FUN place to browse and shop. Samples abound and you likely won’t leave empty-handed (though you could leave empty-walleted!) The wares showcase one of northern Michigan’s premier crops—the tart cherry—in ways that I’d never even considered! If you ever find yourself in Leelanau County, Michigan, make a stop at Cherry Republic!

1I am using a political geography term when I use “state”. By “state”, I refer to a sovereign body with actual boundaries, its own laws, and its own government.

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Iowa—The Farmers Market State?

Increasing attention is being paid to local food, as evidenced by the proliferation of farmers markets. Ostensibly where producers come together to sell their meats, cheeses, produce, etc., farmers markets connect us to the bounty surrounding us, acting as a respite from the sterile environments of a supermarket or megastore. Many of us—perhaps even MOST of us—have at least weekly access to a market where we can buy local goods. For me, it’s party of my weekly routine. I take my reusable bags and fill them with beets and salad greens from Christopher Farms, pork and Oyster mushrooms from Eli Creek Farms, honey from Dale Scheidler, grassfed beef from To Tend and To Keep Farm, apples from Richie Stegmaier, lamb from Russell Sheep Farm and so on. Farmers markets are certainly landmarks on the terrain of the Flyover States.

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So, Who Has the Most Markets?

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), there were over 8000 farmers markets across the country in 2013, a 5-year increase of nearly 40%.1 The 10 states with the most markets are:

  • 1. California (759 markets)
  • 2. New York (637)
  • 3. Illinois (336)
  • 4. Michigan (331)
  • 5. Ohio (300)
  • 6. Pennsylvania (290)
  • 7. Massachusetts (289)
  • 8. Wisconsin (286)
  • 9. Missouri (246)
  • 9. Virginia (tied with Missouri) (246)
  • 10. Iowa (229)
  • 10. North Carolina (tied with Iowa) (229)

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Well, if you’re a geographer, you’ll recognize that there is another factor at play here—the number of people living in these states. California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina are also among the United States’s 10 most populated states. In essence, we are looking at a list of the most populated states. So we really can’t compare these states directly. Well, what do we do now?

In Which We Normalize Our Data

To enable use to compare our states, we need to look at the number of farmers markets relative to population, which we do by normalizing our numbers. Normalize , in our case, means that we are going to take our raw numbers (count of farmers markets and the absolute populations of the states) and generate values for the number of farmers markets per population. Here’s how we do it:
Number of farmers markets in a state/Population of state
This will give us the number of farmers markets per capita (or per person). However, that’s going to yield a small number. So, we will multiply that value by 100,000, which tells us the number of farmers markets per 100,000 people.

So, NOW Who Has the Most Markets?

Surprise, surprise—looks like Iowa is the clear winner! Yes, the Hawkeye State has an astonishing 7.41 farmers markets per 100,000 people! If we look at the top farmers market states on a per population basis, the list looks quite different!

IowaGglE

  • 1. Iowa (7.41 markets per 100,000 people)
  • 2. Wisconsin (4.98)
  • 3. Massachusetts (4.32)
  • 4. Missouri (4.07)
  • 5. Michigan (3.35)
  • 6. New York (3.24)
  • 7. Virginia (2.98)
  • 8. Illinois (2.61)
  • 9. Ohio (2.59)
  • 10. North Carolina (2.36)
  • 11. Pennsylvania (2.27)
  • 12. California (1.98)

Wow! California actually drops to the bottom of the list (remember, though, that I’ve only examined the states with the most farmers markets). But still—an truly incredible showing! In another post, I’ll explain why I’m not all that surprised that Iowa is at the top. But it certainly is surprising to me the magnitude of this! And the Flyover States fare quite well here–4 out of the top 5 (Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Michigan)!

1Farmers market data sourced from here. Population data are from the US Census Bureau.

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Dane County Farmers Market, Part 2

Okay, the Dane County Farmers Market is a riot of color, from potatoes of every hue to a veritable psychedelia of mushrooms,

ColorfulPotatoes

Somewhere Over the Potato Rainbow
OysterMushrooms
Make that Somewhere over the Oyster Mushroom Rainbow
from blazingly golden sunflowers to the rich rubiness of cherries.
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These flowers just look so HAPPY!
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Door County is known for its cherries. Not surprising, given that it’s a peninsular county by Lake Michigan. It’s across the lake from Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, the subject of previous cherry posts.
It’s also a riot of local color, in the form of people and events. There’s the bee man Dale Marsden, whose beekeeping and honey-producing have kept him busy for decades!

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I say, Mr. Marsden, that is a mighty fine chapeau you are sporting!
There’s the annual Paddle and Portage, with pairs of canoers paddling across Lake Mendota, foot-racing with their canoes (the “portage” part) across Madison (and crossing Capitol Square), then finishing by paddling across Lake Monona. There’s even the occasional protest or demonstration!

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And you thought hauling all of your market produce was difficult!
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The Speedo Tuxedo Team
You see, a good farmers market can be more than just a place to purchase food—it can (and should be!) a community center!

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In Search of Market Excellence: The Dane County (WI) Farmers Market, Part 1

The Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin is known as the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States. To me, it’s like a Farmers Market Holy Grail. Indeed, I planned a road trip with the intent of standing upon this Shrine to Local Foods. I did visit and was awed and energized about the entire “eating local” phenomenon. Before I describe the market, however, let’s talk about what is meant by being a “producer only” market.

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As I discussed in a previous post, not all vendors at a farmers market are necessarily growers or producers. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of to have vendors selling goods they bought at a wholesaler—or even a local supermarket—foisting a jacked-up price onto an unsuspecting (and likely well meaning) public for profit. Many, if not most, of us walk into a market believing that we are helping small family farms or other local producers. We consciously make the effort to go to the market and perhaps even pay a little more in order to ensure that there is some sort of viable local food system in our communities. The produce imposters—and that’s what they are—prey on that goodwill.1 Supporting local producers is important to many of us—thankfully, there is no need to worry or be suspicious at the Dane County Farmers Market! If you or your family didn’t grow it or make it, you aren’t selling it there.

I made my first visit the Dane County Farmers Market (henceforth referred to as “DCFM”) on a picture-perfect summer day (yes, I get that this is such a cliché, but it really WAS perfect—sunny, warm-but-not-hot, low humidity). The DCFM is located on Capitol Square (remember from your elementary school geography that Madison is the capital of Wisconsin). It opens early—6:00—though it isn’t really crowded until around 9:00-ish.
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Early morning at the Capitol with vendors setting up.
I got there early and enjoyed watching vendors set up, chatting with the market staff, and just soaking up the local foods goodness of the place. Unfortunately, I was at the beginning of my road trip, so any souvenirs were going to have to be non-perishables. Fortunately, I was able to get some stuff to bring back to Indiana anyway.

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Shoppers

Well, a great piece of advice I heard from my dear friend Amy was to shop on an empty stomach—no eating breakfast beforehand. Good thing I listened to her, because the DCFM was the Free Sample Center of the Universe. Cheese curds—in many flavors, from many vendors—were ubiquitous. In fact, I’d had my first cheese curd here at the market. Okay, that makes sense. I mean, this IS Wisconsin, a state with football fans known as Cheese Heads. But there was more! Jerky from grassfed, pastured beef, cherries from Door County, pickles and jams, venison sausage, honeys and maple syrups, cinnamon buns, cookies, bread cheese, salad dressings—a cornucopia of deliciousness! There was a riot of colorful produce, gorgeous flowers, and, more importantly, a HUMAN diversity. Honestly, it felt like home to me.

So, let me share with you some of the sights of the DCFM! Peruse the pictures and take a virtual trip to the DCFM–maybe these will get you thinking about a face-to-face visit some day!

ChongsGarden

ColorfulCookies

ProduceStand

EthicalYarn2

Kohlrabi

CallaLillies

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An All-Organic Grocery Store? In Muncie, Indiana?????

Yes, you read that right. Muncie, in east-central Indiana, is probably better known for its past—Ball™ canning jars from a company that moved to Colorado, shuttered auto manufacturing plants, a history of racism—which may invite the raised eyebrows and muttered comments that have surely accompanied the reading of this post’s title. But folks, it is true. Muncie is indeed home to a downtown grocery store that sells ONLYorganic goods. That makes Muncie home to a more forward-looking population than many other communities. And this store just celebrated its 8th anniversary, a real milestone for small businesses. People, perhaps it’s time to rethink your stereotypes and old perceptions of Muncie—there truly is a customer base that has not only permitted The Downtown Farm Stand to remain in business, but to actually GROW and THRIVE!

MuncieFlyover

Since opening, they’ve added a deli and a home delivery service (convenient for those who want to eat well, but have time commitments that preclude them from shopping there as often as they would like).

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The Downtown Farm Stand logo

Please note that this is an all organic grocery store. Not a natural grocery. You see, as of this post, there is no definition of “natural”. Goods labeled “Organic”, on the other hand, have to meet certain criteria. That is, the word has a higher bar. “Natural” really doesn’t mean anything; in fact, it’s a pretty misleading term. One could argue that, at the molecular level, everything is natural. Your Cheesy Jalapeno Ketchup Flavored Potato Poufs, made from dehydrated, freeze-dried, overly genetically modified ingredients with a questionable provenance that likely stems from a chemistry lab could, theoretically, be labeled “natural”. So, an all-organic store is a Pretty. Big. Deal. If you shop at Whole Foods or Earth Fare, those bastions of organic shopping, you’ll find that they sell conventional foods along with organic foods. Actually, they sell a LOT of conventionally grown produce and the like. I’m sure that, for them, it’s a business decision. But for Dave and Sara Ring, owners of The Downtown Farm Stand, the decision to sell only organic goods (much of it locally sourced) is one based on values. For them, it was an ethical decision, one that has paid off for them, in terms of establishing a loyal customer base. People KNOW that if you got it at The Farm Stand, it’s truly free of industrial pesticides and herbicides.

But the Rings’ decision has also paid off for the local community. Dave and Sara have made locally produced, organic foods accessible to all of Delaware (IN) County. No need to ponder the limited variety at the supermarket or make the trek to Indianapolis. No wonder their customers are so loyal to them! Dave and Sara also support local growers and producers, assuming that they’ve passed the Rings’ standards. Eggs come from Pinehurst Farm, for example, milk and yogurt from Traders Point Creamery, etc. For a local food system to develop and grow, local producers need access to markets. Farmers markets are one avenue, but they often operate only on weekends, which may make it difficult for those who have outside commitments to attend. So, having a store like The Downtown Farm Stand is a way of connecting farmers to customers (as well as ensuring that growers receive a fair price, something that a traditional supermarket won’t commit to). And when the goods aren’t necessarily locally sourced (we do have some tough winters here), the Rings make sure that their values aren’t compromised. That’s why you’ll see Organic Valley half-and-half here, but not Horizon.

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Front of the store (image copied from The Downtown Farm Stand Facebook page)

So, you might expect to find an all-organic grocery store in New York. Or Los Angeles. Or San Francisco. Or Seattle. Or Chicago. But Muncie? Muncie, Indiana??? Yet there it is—The Downtown Farm Stand, truly a Flyover Find!

The Downtown Farm Stand is located at 125 E. Main St. in downtown Muncie, Indiana.

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