Apples, broccoli, cherries, cabbage, grapes, pears and raspberries are just some of the many celebrated fruits and vegetables produced around Michigan. But on Saturday there was only one fruit showcasing its plump frame. That fruit was the sweet, bright red delight known as the strawberry; Ms. Berry, if you’re tasty.
The first of its kind in the Ypsilanti area, the Depot Town Strawberry Showcase was a celebration of all things strawberry. Designed like a tour for the taste buds, the Strawberry Showcase brought together tastes from five different Depot Town staples to help the Ypsi community take a new look at the venerable fruity superstar.
The free event began at the Depot Town Farmer’s Market. Visitors were introduced to the Showcase and handed their “passports,” which helped guide them to the four stops on what was sure to be a berry tasty tour. Once filled out, the passports could be turned in at the last stop for a chance to be one of four people to win a $25 gift from one of the four participating businesses or a T-shirt.
Before taking off, visitors got their first taste of Ms. Berry in the form of strawberry shortcake, provided by local food advocacy group and event organizers, Think Local First.
Although she was a bit hesitant to admit it, this was Think’s executive director, Ingrid Ault’s, favorite stop on the tour.
“I don’t know if I can… um… ok, shortcake. I love shortcake,” she said.
She was also quick to point towards an unusual taste from Harvest Kitchen, the second stop on the tour.
Harvest Kitchen is a store that specializes in prepared meals made with local, directly sourced ingredients. Upon arrival, visitors were treated to a refreshing strawberry and peach smoothie. Once inside, they got to savor the unusual flavors of their strawberry salsa, which was prepared by Kim Nichols, Harvest’s chef extraordinaire.
Stop three on Ms. Berry’s tour was Ypsi Food Co-op, which is considered by many to be a Depot Town staple. Once enveloped in the temperature-controlled market, visitors got to taste some tart and sweet strawberry wine from Sandhill Crane Vineyards based in Jackson, Mich. The market also offered up samples of River Street Bakery’s strawberry cheesecake.
River Street’s custardy offering might have been the biggest hit of the tour. It received no less than four “Oh my god,” exclamations of approval during my short time there.
The last stop in the Strawberry Showcase was the ever-popular Corner Brewery. There the masses were given a special taste of Corner’s Strawberry Blonde, which has been unavailable for months at their retail outlet. According to Ault, Corner held two kegs of the ale for the event.
Although some may be satisfied with just enjoying delicious, local foods, according to Ault, the event had other purposes as well.
“We decided to do this festival for two reasons: to raise awareness that we’re Think Local First of Washtenaw County … and to raise awareness of businesses that are food based in the city of Ypsilanti,” she said.
The idea for the festival came after visiting a different strawberry festival that was a little less than brimming with the scarlet starlets.
“I went to a strawberry festival, several years ago, and found no strawberries until the very, very, very end of the festival. And all they were were little boxed strawberries from California,” she said.
“I said, ‘Well that’s crazy.’ So, in the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to do this,” Ault said.
It wasn’t until she had a “powwow” with a few likeminded folks that the idea of a food festival really took off. But the decision to highlight the strawberry was an idea that worked because of the timing and the quality of the berries grown in this region.
“We thought about what kind of food item that was good in Michigan, that was [in season] around this time, and we decided on strawberries,” she said. “It’s sort of the quintessential fruit of Michigan. When you’ve had a Michigan strawberry, you know you’ve had a Michigan strawberry,” she said.
Although Ms. Berry was the reason for the gathering, Ault hoped that visitors would get a sense of community from participating in the event.
“That’s what we’re all about, building a community. We want people to feel a part of the fabric of the community,” she said.
The event was free thanks to the help of volunteers and the four participating stores.
Melanie Adams, the outreach coordinator for Harvest Kitchen, felt that their involvement was an easy choice.
“For us, participating in the Depot Town Strawberry [Showcase] was something that very much aligned with our mission of trying to source the best local ingredients that we can for our food,” she said.
“This seemed like a great opportunity to get to know people of the community better.”