Preserving Market Memories

Ann Arbor Farmers Market project records oral history
Oral history table at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market

Jonathan Goetz, a market vendor, shares some stories with volunteers Joan Kauffman and Stephanie Kadel Taras at the oral history table at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market earlier this month. (Photo by Mary Morgan)

When Ralph Snow of Snow’s Sugarbush, a long-time vendor at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, died last year, his passing was a loss of both the individual and of the memories he carried.

“His death reminded us of the impermanence of the market,” says Molly Notarianni, market manager.

So she decided to look for a way to preserve the market’s history, which would otherwise be lost. As she worked with a volunteer who specialized in oral history, the idea of a regular oral history booth emerged, a way to let vendors and shoppers share stories of their relationships and memories in the market.

Launched this summer in conjunction with the market’s 90th anniversary, the project aims to give people a chance to feel engaged in documenting the history of the market and of the entire agricultural region. Volunteers staff a table every other Wednesday at the market from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. They’ll be at the market today.

The booth has been a work in progress since last winter. For now, it simply consists of headphones and other rudimentary recording equipment lent to the market by Notarianni’s brother. She says that their goal this winter will be to find funding, but for now it’s completely volunteer-run, with the purchase of CDs being the only expense.

Anyone is allowed to record an interview describing what has made the market personally special. “Everyone has a different story, whether it’s how they became a farmer, why they decided to start selling at the market, or about the relationships they’ve developed,” Notarianni says.

So far about 25 people have made recordings. The goal is to interview each of the market’s 140 vendors, plus any interested shoppers. Notarianni would like to interview all the long-time vendors first, and then move to the new flow of incoming vendors.

One farmer who has already contributed to the oral history project is Scott Robertello Nobertello, from Kapnick Orchards in Tecumseh. He has sold produce at several farmers markets but says that the Ann Arbor market, along with its customers, is his favorite. In his interview, he recalled a destructive hailstorm his farm endured last year that ruined a good deal of his produce. He spoke of how understanding the customers in Ann Arbor were and how appreciative he was of their continuing to buy his produce, although it wasn’t in top shape.

Kapnick Orchards has sold produce every single market day since 1938, now with the fourth generation in charge. Many other vendors agreed with Robertello Nobertello that knowing their customers by name and watching their children grow up is what makes the market so meaningful to them.

Right now, plans for where the recordings will be stored are still unclear. The public library has indicated interest in forming some type of audio or written archive open for anyone to see or hear, Notarianni said. “Right now we’re just collecting information, then we’ll decide what to do with it.”

Notarianni is also working to transcribe each interview, so that there will be written documentation along with the audio version. She said she hopes to load the interviews onto the market’s website as well.

Although the oral history project is still far from complete, Notarianni expressed how much fun she’s had. She’s hoping to give the market a more personal aspect, showing “the stories behind what the customers are buying.” The farmers market has become an “integral part” of countless lives in Ann Arbor, she says, and it’s important to remember why.

About the writer: Rebecca Friedman is a senior at Huron High School. She worked as a summer intern for The Chronicle.


  1. September 30, 2009 at 7:57 am | permalink

    Minor correction, I believe you mean Scott Robertello

  2. By Rici
    September 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm | permalink

    I wondered about “the maple syrup guy” (and thanks to this article, I now know his name was Ralph Snow). I’m sorry to learn of his passing – even though I always wondered if the maple sugar candies really were made yesterday! I would love to hear some stories from Grandma of Grandma’s Kitchen!