This story is part of "Mornings in Michigan," our series about morning rituals from across our state.
Eastern Market is a Detroit institution. It’s the largest farmers market in Michigan, and one of the oldest in the country – it opened in 1891. On Saturday mornings, the market officially opens at 6 a.m., but as Michigan Radio's Tony Brown discovered, some people arrive much earlier.
Starting before sunrise
It’s very early in the morning. It’s before the sun comes up. At Eastern Market, the vendors are getting their stands up and ready to go.
“I guess I’ve always been a morning person, so I don’t mind getting up in the middle of the night,” says Jim Burda.
Jim Burda is a farmer. He owns Burda’s Berries in Three Rivers. Three Rivers is a small city south of Kalamazoo. He leaves his farm every Saturday morning around 1:30 and heads up I-94 east.
“It’s just, you get to start your day and you get to watch everyone else wake up,” Burda says.
He gets here around 4 a.m.
“It goes from nothing to something in roughly about two hours: fully displays, everything set up,” he says. “When you come in here there’s nothing here, no tables, no nothing. So it’s kind of fun to watch the progression of the morning.”
Now Burda’s stand is bursting with blueberries and raspberries and cherries, and business is about to kick in. Chefs and restaurant workers from the area are here to pick up what they need for their day. They’re in and out before the crowds get here.
A place for shopping
The market is open on Saturdays year-round with more than 200 vendors. Emma Velasco is Eastern Market’s chief operating officer. Saturdays are always busy here at Eastern Market, but the biggest day of the year is the Sunday after Mother’s Day. Velasco says they call it Flower Day.
“In flower season the sheds are full from stem to stern with flowers,” she says. “On that day you can come here and with eight to 10,000 of your closest friends. Even 20,000 people it’s been counted sometimes, depending on the weather, right?”
Walking around the market, you’ll find apple farmers. Customers are loading up on fruits and vegetables, and vendors are selling meats and baked goods.
A place for community
Monique Nikki Sasser used to sell her tea right on the overpass bridge behind Gratiot Central Market. Now she sells her tea – it’s Nikki’s Ginger Tea – inside one of the sheds.
She says the market is more about community than it is about shopping.
"I love, and we love Eastern Market because you meet people from all walks of life,” Sasser says. “I love that. It feels like family. You meet so many wonderful people. Then you see people maybe you haven’t seen in years, and you run into people that you know.”
Karmen Reed just started coming down the Eastern Market on Saturdays. She likes come for three main reasons.
“The people, the walking, the environment,” she says. “It’s like peace on earth. It’s the most comfortable place to go.
Right now you can load up your trunk with mums and pumpkins. You can also check out the dozens of world-class murals while you’re there.
Lauren Talley contributed to this story.