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Vendors talk joys, tribulations of life as farmers’ market farmers

News Photo by Julie Riddle Fahed Al-Duwaisan holds a scone at the Alpena Farmers’ Market last weekend.

On a recent, rainy Saturday morning, small-scale farmers shared generations of family tradition and the bounty of their back yards at the weekly Alpena Farmers’ Market at Mich-e-ke-wis Park.

As they smiled at shoppers and chatted with passers-by, several vendors described the joys and tribulations — but mostly joys — of life as a farmers’ market farmer.

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Fahed Al-Duwaisan can rattle off the ingredients of the scones, loaves, and pliable energy bars he makes since he joined his mother’s bread-baking business eight years ago.

Her breads have a loyal following, Al-Duwaisan said, as a customer dropped by his booth to pick up several loaves of pre-ordered bread.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Teri Cook chats with customers at the Alpena Farmers’ Market recently.

“It’s way better than working for someone else,” said Al-Duwaisan of the independent life of the farmer’s market salesman.

A dark loaf, propped up on a stand, contains dry seeds soaked in coffee and a secret ingredient he hesitated to share.

“All right, fine,” Al-Duwaisan said with a grin. “It’s dark cocoa.”

He rattled off the health benefits of the energy bars patted into rectangles in his mother’s well-stocked kitchen.

“It might have some melted marshmallow,” Al-Duwaisan admitted. “But all the other stuff is good for you.”

News Photo by Julie Riddle Julie Robarge peeks through pink flowers at her table at the Alpena Farmers’ Market last weekend.

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Sales have been good at Jerry Rutherford’s table this year, he said. Customers snapped up his fresh honey and honeycomb, popular as more people show interest in raising bees themselves, Rutherford said.

Last year, he sold 500 pounds of honey, produced by the industrious bees he keeps happy with 50 varieties of flowers in his Hubbard Lake back yard.

After 34 years working with sheet metal, hobby farming and Saturdays at the farmers’ market give him a chance to move at a different pace.

“It’s something to get away from the rat race,” Rutherford said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work.”

News Photo by Julie Riddle Jeannie Kortman describes bread loaves at her Alpena Farmers’ Market stand last Saturday.

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Presque Isle Farm owner Dion Stepanski grows certified organic greens for chefs in the area. His edibles end up on Mackinac Island and in retail stores, and — bagged and appealing next to heaps of red beets — they’re a hit at the Alpena Farmers’ Market.

One end of a table held a cluster of bottles labeled as hard cider, a new addition to Stepanski’s offerings.

Weather can sometimes keep away the buyers on which vendors rely, said Stepanski, eying low gray clouds above his tent.

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News Photo by Julie Riddle David and Evelyn Glomski hold fresh-picked green beans at their Alpena Farmers’ Market booth last weekend.

David and Evelyn Glomski, prepared for anything in lightweight rain jackets, chatted merrily with customers. The couple have sold baked goods and vegetables at the market since 2009.

“We just like to make cookies,” Evelyn Glomski admitted. “I’m gonna tell you, they’re really good.”

Working a farmer’s market requires more than just a few Saturday hours sitting under a canopy, David Glomski said. Even small-scale farmers spend the whole year planning, ordering, planting, and cultivating (“Weeds!” Evelyn Glomski exclaimed, with a head shake) to produce a harvest to share with their customers.

Vendors can earn a decent profit if they have good sales, the couple said.

“Are you going to live on it? No,” Evelyn Glomski said. “But it’s what you like.”

News Photo by Julie Riddle Vendor Maria Gascho makes a sale at the Alpena Farmers’ Market last Saturday.

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Swirls of cinnamon catch many shoppers’ eyes, said Jeannie Kortman, gesturing toward one of many plump loaves at a stand named after her.

Surrounded by golden loaves, Kortman pointed out an oatmeal cake, made from a recipe handed down by her great-great grandmother.

A lot of seniors visit her table in hopes of finding the cake, she reported. They remember the dessert from when they were young, when their own grandmothers made such treats.

“In those days, everything was homemade,” Kortman said. “You couldn’t go in the store and buy it.”

***

Peeking shyly around a bouquet of pink flowers, first-time vendor Julie Robarge had mixed feelings about her new flower-selling venture.

Her back yard flourished this year, she said, sitting behind a table surrounded by pots and vases of bee balm, stargazer lilies, coneflowers, and Russian sage.

The rainy Saturday meant fewer customers than she expected, but she will probably give the farmers’ market another try to share the bounty of the Ossineke flower garden she’s been tending for 20 years.

Choosing a best-loved flower was impossible.

“Oh, gosh,” Robarge said. “They’re all my favorites.”

***

J.P. Cook sat behind his first farmers’ market table at 8 years old, hawking the riches of his backyard garden.

His parents, who helped get the market started in Alpena, passed down a love of the vendor experience that Cook now shares with his own family, who help him sell produce and flowers each Saturday.

People stop by the market just to take pictures and talk to the farmers — something farmers love, Cook said.

After selling at the market for 40 years, Cook still relishes the Saturday event, with its colors, music, relaxed atmosphere, and happy shoppers who light up at the sight of his flowers and vegetables.

“We like to see people enjoying what we are enjoying,” Cook said.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Beeswax clusters in a basket at vendor Jerry Rutherford’s booth at the Alpena Farmers’ Market last Saturday.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Vendor Dion Stepanski holds radishes for a customer at the Alpena Farmers’ Market last weekend.

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