The National Cherry Festival has been a catalyst of activity for Northern Michigan summers for 89 years. Visitors and locals alike are able to enjoy parades, rides, and countless events within the festival that hype up the vibrancy of our already bustling bayside city. This year, keeping in the theme of “Preserving the Tradition”, the National Cherry Festival wanted to amp up their involvement with what this festival is all about – local agriculture.
Managing the farmers market for the past few years, I’ve heard from both farmers and customers that the relationship they have with the festival has historically been strained, to say the least. Moving the market during three of, what should be, the most profitable markets of the year for our vendors hasn’t been the best communication of the National Cherry Festival’s mission. Trevor Tkach, executive director of the festival, noticed this issue and, in an effort to be more authentic to the reason for the festival, began to brainstorm a way to better communicate the festival’s support of local agriculture.
This year, the National Cherry Festival launched a new program to incentivize customers to attend the relocated market. The first 100 customers to each market would receive $5 in vouchers to spend on ANY product at the market! This is a total of a potential $1,500 that could go straight into the pocket of our local area farmers from the Cherry Festival!
I was stationed at each market of the Cherry Festival. I was there bright and early with a neon orange vest, a smile, and free coupons courtesy of the National Cherry Festival. It didn’t take long for people to catch on to the fact that I was handing out free money. Soon, people were swarming to find the “man in the orange vest.” I encouraged people to try something new that they wouldn’t otherwise try. Everybody was incredibly responsive to the coupons and was pleased to see the Cherry Festival was shining the spotlight on our farmers once again. Both customers and farmers were incredibly pleased with the program. I had countless people come up to me to commend the festival for making the effort to make this market shine during the festival.
Beyond this program, Taste the Local Difference® teamed up with Harvest and Blue Heron 2 to provide a delicious Farmers Market Brunch. Chefs from both locations would shop at market that morning for their goods and whip up some incredible dishes for patrons and farmers. Partnering this delicious brunch option with the coupon program created a recipe for a farmers market cooked to perfection!
Overall, we noticed the number of farmers at our market for the Cherry Festival was double that of last year’s participation. We have also seen a total of $1,388 of the coupons redeemed. I would say, these three markets were a huge success and both of these programs will definitely be something we revisit for next year!
Nick Viox is a northern Michigan native and an all around lover of food. He has worked for the Downtown Development Authority as the Special Projects Coordinator for over two years and has managed the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market during his time there.