After a fact-finding trip to Detroit’s Eastern Market — one of the largest farmers markets and food distribution networks in the nation — Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba is itching to start something similar here.
The mayor and eight others — including aldermen, Levee Improvement Commission members and others with an interest in the local food movement — took two city vehicles on a whirlwind weekend tour of the five-block, year-round retail and wholesale market in Michigan.
“I envision something like this as a big deal for this part of the Midwest,” Gluba said. “Such a market could improve the performance of local growers, processors and distributors and retain more of the region’s food expenditures locally, as well as create more jobs and household income.”
Gluba envisions the currently vacant sections of the riverfront Freight House as the natural incubator for a growing “market district” in the central city. Although the Levee Commission currently is accepting various proposals for the building — including tenants who are willing to pay market-rate rent and start businesses in some of the space — Gluba said he supports a quasi-public use centered on an expanding market.
“I personally will be recommending that is the direction we should go,” he said.
Under the mayor’s proposal, the city would not charge rent and would consider the use of the building as in-kind support for the expanding market.
Darcy Rostenbach, president of the Freight House Farmers Market, said the organization thinks it is ready to take the next step and expand. In its proposal to the Levee Commission, officials from the market asked for an additional 8,000 square feet in the building that used to house a sports bar and comedy club.
The proposal also calls for the operation of a market store and restaurant that would be open daily to supplement the current twice-weekly markets. The restaurant would specialize in local ingredients and recipes from market vendors.
“I don’t feel we’re close to maxing out our potential,” she said.
Getting more people to the market and getting more growers to participate is a matter of matching supply and demand, she said. If the market grows large enough so someone can do most of their retail shopping — or a restaurant or institution can do its wholesale shopping there — more growers and producers will get involved.
Second Ward Alderman Bill Edmond, a native of Detroit who is familiar with its Eastern Market, thinks something similar can work in Davenport on a slightly smaller scale. He is particularly interested in seeing if some city-owned vacant lots and other unused parcels of lands can be converted into urban gardens tended by central-city residents.
“I feel very comfortable with this idea,” he said.
The Davenport group met up with former Renaissance Rock Island head Dan Carmody, who was hired as head of the nonprofit board that runs the Eastern Market.