Farm Progress

Food hub will put commercial kitchens, vendor spaces, a restaurant and a farmers market under one roof.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

October 26, 2018

6 Min Read
THE FUTURE: The Grayling Northern Market, as planned, is a seven-day-a-week, $9.1 million project expected to create at least 14 new jobs and is designed to be a new economic engine for the area.

Imagine a year-round place housing a boutique, restaurant, food hub, commercial kitchens, vendor spaces, farmers market and more. The city of Grayling has dared to do so and is well on its way to turning this vision into a reality.

The Grayling Northern Market, a proposed 53,500-square-foot facility, is moving forward as detailed engineering and development plans are being drafted, with an ambitious Nov. 1, 2019, opening.

“This project will help create jobs, grow the food industry and make local products more accessible to residents,” says Doug Baum, Grayling city manager.

The planned, seven-day-a-week, $9.1 million Grayling Northern Market is expected to create at least 14 new jobs and is designed to be a new economic engine for the depressed area.

After visiting several farmers markets across the state, Grayling officials decided to model the Northern Market after Flint Farmers’ Market.

Outside the front of the building will be spaces for outdoor vendors. Inside will have over 60 8-by-9-foot modules, which can be pieced together to fit a desired size. There’s also dedicated, permanent retail areas for a butcher’s meat market, a play zone and three certified kitchens for demonstrations, teaching and developing products. The main floor also contains plenty of cooler, freezer and warehouse space.

A center staircase and elevators will bring visitors to an in-house restaurant on the second floor, as well as offices, classrooms and an event center for up to 240 guests.

Its location on the Interstate 75 Business Loop will help to draw in tourists and travelers passing by. “It’s a great stopping point, but we envision it becoming a destination,” says Doug Paulus, the project manager and fifth-generation farmer on a 110-year-old farm in Onaway.

The market is being designed with large, upscale restroooms to provide a good stopping point for travelers.

The I-75 Business Loop feeds into M-72, the major east-west route that connects Traverse City to the west and Alpena to the east.
Grayling sees a lot of traffic. Baum says a Michigan State University study documented 14,000 motorists coming on and off I-75 through Grayling daily.

“They called us to ask if these numbers seemed real. They are,” Baum says. “People coming from Detroit and headed to the Grand Traverse region get off I-75 to take M-72 to that area. From Lansing, U.S. 127 connects with I-75 just south of Grayling and then M-72 goes to east Michigan.”

Strategic location
The geographic location is strategic in that it has potential for freight logistics between the northern regions (the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula), with more populated markets in the southern Lower Peninsula. 

“The planning team met with members of the Marquette food co-op, and they showed real interest because they have difficulty moving excess product out of the area at a reasonable rate and also moving products in,” Baum says. “By identifying potential for shared transportation on a larger scale, farmers can realize the ability to increase capacity.”

Currently, Leonardos, a wholesaler, works with the Eastern Market in Detroit to transport product into northern Michigan. Baum says that relationship could greatly expand with the addition of a central food hub, also allowing for northern Michigan products to be shipped south.

The beginning
Three years ago, the city purchased an old lumberyard and property on a brownfield site.

“After engineers took a look at the site, including structural issues and contamination, it was determined to be about a wash to demo or build new,” Baum says. “After many months of going back and forth, we decided it made more sense to build new and create an area that really fit our vision. We want to spark development and energize the area economically.”


NEW FUTURE: A lumberyard will be demolished to make way for the new 53,500-square-foot Grayling Northern Market.

Paulus says the only way the project works is not to have a private business running it. “There needs to be a central sense of being, a combined effort to open new markets and a shared link for cooperatives,” he explains.

Baum agrees, even though the city has gotten some criticism with people saying it shouldn’t be in business. “So, we created a nonprofit to run the market,” Baum says. “We’re not looking at making profits, we want to create jobs, create a sense of place and make things better for the region.”
impact on region

The effect on a 100-mile radius will be profound, Paulus says, as many food producers have reached marketing plateaus and are finding it difficult to move forward. “We’re creating a collective market. Farm to table in northern Michigan is the future,” he adds.

The project is focused on making the most of combined resources and providing an educational component. The classroom area is designed to connect people with local foods and how to prepare meals.

“We want to help newer and smaller farms with marketing and moving products by having a central location, and not having to go to three or four farm markets a week to do that,” Baum says.

The market is already spurring other developments. The lack of USDA slaughter houses in northern Michigan has always been a problem. The closest is Ebels out of Falmouth, about 45 miles southwest of Grayling. The city has been working with RRR Meat Processing out of Buckley, a USDA slaughterhouse, to locate a facility in Grayling for meat production. “They expect to be up and running before the market opens,” Paulus says.

Also, the city has purchased a vacant lot to the east of the market where it hopes to develop a community recreational center. “It’s not finalized, but there’s been discussion on a pool, indoor walking track and basketball courts,” Baum says. “The local commission on aging also has interest, and there could be upper-level housing, as well. The two projects could share parking, giving plenty of room for travelers pulling campers.”

Financial support
Funding for the project has come from several sources. Most recently, the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development voted to approve a $250,000 Food and Agriculture Investment Fund grant for detailed engineering and development plans, as well as bidding and construction documents for the market’s design and development.

The newly created Food and Agricul-ture Investment Fund is used to promote the growth of food and agriculture in Michigan, according to Peter Anastor, director of MDARD’s agricultural development division.

“To date this year, we have awarded $4.7 million for 23 projects, which range from the large cheese plant that’s locating in St. Johns to much smaller projects. Agriculture is often competing with automotive, aerospace and manufacturing for funding,” he says. “This fund is somewhat unique, and it’s been a big success for the state.”


THE ATRIUM: This is the atrium of the proposed new Grayling Northern Market, as envisioned by architect Shannon White, the founding principal of the Flint-based architectural firm Fun chitecture LLC.

The city of Grayling has invested $250,000 and received a $175,000 grant and a $175,000 loan from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, as well as a USDA grant of $37,500 for kitchen equipment.

The city is seeking additional funds from other sources, including the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Gov. Rick Snyder has provided an agricultural and economic development facilitator, and a business administrator through the Small Business Administration, to assist with the project. 

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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