Market days, two Tuesdays a month through the summers in New Era, Mich., have become important community connectors for New Era Christian Reformed Church. The church invites vendors to set up and sell produce, handmade goods, and various other things while congregation members also run Power of Produce activities for kids and open the setting to other community service providers too.
Organizer Sandy Whitaker said the congregation uses the market to serve in any way they can. “We are working to try to meet the needs of our community,” she said. Twice so far this summer, that included a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic, run by the the District Health Department #10, and last year the health department supplied a “food navigator” to assist patrons in making healthy food choices.
Whitaker said that before they started this venture, in 2016, they learned that 60% of their county qualifies as being obese and there wasn’t a high reporting of consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The market has partnered with the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Michigan’s Project FRESH to make buying fresh produce more accessible. Kids participating in the Power of Produce Club receive a $2 token each time to spend on market produce; registering seniors receive $4 in tokens.
Many aspects of the New Era Farmers Market are supported by community grants. This summer a grant from the Oceana County Youth Advisory Council is supporting the activities for children ages 4 to 14. “Some churches run their day camps for kids every day for a week, but we run our (children’s activities) all summer,” Whitaker said. Children register for the program, receiving a “passport” to track attendance, she said, which allows the church to target the activities to the population that comes. In the first week the club had a bike rodeo and provided free helmets to participating children.
Church members are invested in making the market a success—volunteering to count attendees; staffing the booth that distributes tokens, free cookbooks and other resources; taking a vendor table to sell surplus garden bounty and preserves; arranging for the live music that helps to draw the crowd. The outdoor stage and viewing platform that were built for the market performances also allowed the church to conduct outdoor worship services through 2020. This year the entertainment is funded by a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Holland Area Arts Council.
Whitaker said she sees God’s hand in all the moments of provision, from meeting a puppeteer willing to come for free to tell Bible stories to reclaiming overgrown land and seeing it grow healthy vegetables.
The last market for 2021 is scheduled for Sept. 14.