Archive for the ‘Local Food’ category

Local In Ann Arbor

September 15, 2018

Exactly ten years ago today,  the world financial system received a shock whose impact is still affecting the course of history.  This was, of course, the demise of Lehman Brothers. (For an excellent history and analysis of the effects of the financial crisis, see this recent article in the New Yorker (September 17,2018.)  I was not particularly surprised, though the roller coaster of those days affected me much as it did most people. But I had been anticipating disaster.  I read The Black Swan when it was first published in 2007. This is a complicated and difficult read, but its basic message is that simplistic predictions are likely to fail. Events can follow a chaotic path, which doesn’t mean jumbled, but obeying a mathematical course explained in the science of complexity (chaos theory). Taleb explains this at great confusing length, but he has one memorable metaphor (paraphrased below).  He suggests that we (were) due for a surprise.

If one uses past behavior to predict the future, consider the turkey. All is going well. He is protected from predators, fed well, given shelter and room to run. Day after day brings nothing but good news. Then comes Thanksgiving.  

Straight-line growth. It just keeps going!

This was especially meaningful to me because as a Washtenaw County Commissioner (1997-2004), I was exposed to numerous budget meetings in which the budget director continually pronounced that “the best predictor of the future is the past” and presented graphs showing that the County revenue would grow continuously in a straight line!  The early 2000s were the period in which we were battling sprawl – unrestrained development in rural areas.  The tax base was growing hugely and the resulting revenue was making the County look very rich indeed.  The message was that we could spend freely since the money would just keep coming and coming.  It became clear to me that we were addicted to growth. But growth must by its nature be limited and the rate of growth we were experiencing seemed unsustainable.  And indeed, by 2007 Michigan was in a severe economic slump.  (The period of 2000-2009 is now called Michigan’s lost decade.)

Meanwhile, there were other troublesome economic indicators. The price of oil had been rising steadily over the decade, reaching a price of over $160 per barrel in June, 2008.  As I confessed later, I had been a subscriber to dystopian thinking (including the peak oil concept) for some time. My response was to focus on concepts of sustainability (the classic concept, not the self-serving development concept).  I expanded my vegetable garden, began promoting the local food concept (see my Ann Arbor Observer article, Meet the Locavores), and began a blog, Voltaire’s Garden.  This is a reference to the French philosopher Voltaire’s often-quoted recommendation to “cultivate our garden” as a response to hardship and cruelty in the world abroad. This post, May You Live in Interesting Times, explains that history.  Note the emphasis on creating an island of survival and prosperity in the midst of scarcity and disruption.

Localization as an Academic Subject

The semester following the financial meltdown, I gained access (through my activities on local food) to an informal seminar series that was being conducted by some graduate students at the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) at the University of Michigan.  I don’t recall the title, if it had one, but there were many speakers, both invited and student participants, on subjects ranging from how to fight food deserts in Detroit,  to the futurist Nicole Foss, and others discussing everything from the coming energy crisis to how local farms might be established. (The pioneering farmer Richard Andres was a strong influence.)  It was a heady time, with the sense of a beginning revolution.  To me, the outstanding moment was a lecture by UM professor Thomas Princen on the subject of localization.  Dr. Princen’s field of specialization is economic and ecological sustainability and he has written several books.  Here is my review of one of them, The Logic of Sufficiency. It posits many of the same concepts of classic sustainability (with an equilibrium rather than growth) that I find so attractive.

Here is the handout that he passed out that day in February.  I found it electrifying.  It is a response to the evident financial stresses of the moment, as well as the impending energy crisis.  This is shown by the definition:

Localization is a process of social change brought on by unavoidable declines in available energy, as well by diminishing natural resource and waste sink capacities. Attention, individual and collective, is oriented toward direct relations, social and biophysical.

At the time I didn’t understand how controversial this might be. It pushes back against so many of the trends that we have come to accept in an age of globalization.

Each locality should solve as many of its own problems as possible and do so in ways suited to its own biophysical and social conditions. (and) Localizers should organize their own local food and water supplies before re-organizing the country or the world. If higher levels of authority are needed to ensure local provisioning, then one organizes at those levels. Otherwise, one looks inward to local capacities, local infrastructure and local needs.

This is basically the principle that the resilient communities movement adopts.  For a time, the international Transition movement was similarly oriented toward a self-sustaining community.  Here is my account of a local Transition organizing meeting (April 2009, in the same time frame as the discussion I have been relating).

And here is the recommendation that I truly took to heart.

Place-based Decisionmaking Principle: When critical life-support systems are at risk, key decisions should reside with those who demonstrate a connection and commitment to place, not with those who are placeless. This “residential” principle says that people who live and work in a community are more likely to represent community values, be dependent on the coherence and durability of the community in place, and know that place.

In today’s environment with the emphasis on equity and accommodation, this is likely to raise eyebrows, if not blood pressures.  And yet it is based on a “lifeboat” view of how a community may survive when the world is unfriendly. In its own way it echoes Voltaire’s island against the world.  If we once again experience food shortages and lack of sufficient resources to carry on a minimal standard of life, it may seem to be the only course.

Princen went on to teach a course in Localization for several semesters, using a textbook that a colleague, Raymond de Young (also an instructor in the course), and he wrote, The Localization Reader. Most chapters are by other authors, and some, like the essays by Wendell Berry, are classics.

Self-governance and the City of Ann Arbor

Note that the emphasis in the conceptual discussion of localization is on the ability of local populations to make decisions for themselves.  Thus, I determined to support the concept of localization in my writing and politics.  This was the reason for beginning Local in Ann Arbor. The neighborhoods are simply organs (in a biological sense) of the local community and its residents.  They have been fighting a rearguard action against those who would instead use Ann Arbor as a means to wealth, even if it means displacement of long-time residents.  (This was explained at length in my August 2018 pre-election post, The Primary Struggle for the Future of Ann Arbor.)  Here is the plea I made in that post (emphasis added):

Some have accused the Neighborhoods of being elitists and implied that they are worse. But actually, the shoe is on the other foot.  The whole thrust and focus is to wealth creation at the expense of long-time residents, many of whom are not particularly well off. Who owns the city? Current residents and businesses, or a future populace who are not here yet? Should a small group of elected and appointed officials make all the decisions and determine the course of the city? Or should the citizenry be empowered to help set the course?

As I indicated in that post, the problem is that Ann Arbor has become so attractive a place to live that property can essentially be mined for “gold”.  Wealth creation is a powerful drive.

On to the Future

Conditions have changed since 2009.  Oil prices have gone down (but are going up again) and there have been a number of adaptations (renewable energy taking the place of fossil fuels even in commercial generation; a robust local food economy) that make our current state less perilous. But the rapid advance of climate change and global warming make worldwide, if not local, economic and resource availability uncertain.  We have an unpredictable chief executive in the White House and there are many changes occurring and more likely in the Federal structure that we have come to depend on.  There are skirmishes, humanitarian disasters, and migration surges everywhere.  Water shortages and infrastructure failures are an increasing concern.  I don’t think that cultivation of our garden (or our resilient local community) is yet uncalled for.

Still, I think that I have said enough in the support of localization (which was, after all, the purpose of Local In Ann Arbor).  I have a couple more things to get off my mind, and then I will be closing this blog and moving on to another project.  I’m grateful for the readership I have enjoyed over the last decade.

SECOND THOUGHTS: (September 2, 2020) Those who have been continuing to read Local In Ann Arbor know that I did not succeed in getting off this particular treadmill. A great deal has happened in Ann Arbor since I thought I’d “retire” to write a novel. And I’ve been there for some of it. In particular, I have found that I want to pursue the Ann Arbor Emergent theme. I believe that the solutions, or outcomes, of many of the issues we are now confronting will need to be resolved on a regional basis that acknowledges the importance and involvement of our adjoining and nearby communities.  That is where you will see some more contributions from me.

UPDATE:  Today (September 17, 2018) the Local in Ann Arbor scene took a couple of blows. Mary Morgan, the former publisher of the Ann Arbor Chronicle (an invaluable local news site) and founder of the CivCity Initiative (a nonprofit devoted to encouraging citizens to be involved in local government), has announced that she will be relocating and the nonprofit will be terminated.  Both of these highly estimable projects failed to attract sufficient monetary support from the public to make them feasible over the long term.  She will be missed. Bouquets, Mary, and I hope there is a good donut shop where you are going.

Steve Bean, who has been part of our local scene for many years (read about his run for Mayor) also mentioned as an aside on Facebook that he is relocating to parts unknown.  Here’s hoping he finds a suitable person to take over his permaculture garden.  Ann Arbor will be just a little less interesting.

SECOND UPDATE:  Mary Morgan’s exit interview by Concentrate contains this interesting observation:

There’s tension or outright hostility between people with different visions of what Ann Arbor should be. Those divisions are becoming fossilized. So now, rather than responding to proposals that should be debated on their merits, people are reacting to the individual who proposed the idea – trying to suss out whether someone is “with us or against us,” and then arguing based on those assumptions. It’s toxic.

I don’t know that I wholly agree, but this reflects some of my disillusionment with Ann Arbor politics. It has gotten just plain nasty.  One reason I am “leaving town” as well (though staying in place).

Glorious in Ann Arbor

April 5, 2010

It was a glorious afternoon.  In trying to take it all in, I was inspired to try a haiku (a form I’ve never before employed):

Lunch by chance on State

Old stone cut by green space and bells

Goofy smiles on faces

Why do we love Ann Arbor?  It is a mix of experience and circumstance, individual to each of us.  But this afternoon exemplified it for me.

First, in anticipation of a matinée, we tried a new restaurant near State Street, Tian Chu  (they show the two syllables joined or separate in different applications).  It has been reviewed elsewhere but we had wandered in just as they opened.  Because the proprietor seemed so proud of it earlier, I chose the Bamboo Tofu and my husband chose the Bulgogi lunch box.  As noted by the linked review and our earlier chat with the proprietor, this family has lived in China (as Korean minority persons) and operated a Korean restaurant in Hungary.  They are truly cosmopolitan and the menu is an intriguing mixture of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese specialities, blended without apology as appropriate.  So my husband had as part of his Korean (main dish) meal, egg drop soup (Chinese) and I chose the miso.  Then we shared three Korean-style side dishes as appetizer, a clearly homemade kimchi (yes, Napa cabbage), mung bean sprouts with sesame oil dressing, and a light pancake with scallion.  My bamboo tofu was delicate, served in a bamboo section.  It was vegetarian, with a light broth (seasoned with chili and sesame), silken tofu, bamboo sprouts, and thin slices of green squash (zucchini, I think).  His bulgogi came with rice (as did my dish) but in the lunch box (a Japanese construct) were included a sweetish pickle and soybean sprouts, plus a slice of vegetable/egg sushi (Japanese) and two deep-fried dumplings (he said they were like Chinese spring rolls) and a sauce for dipping.  It all came with a special tea that the waitstaff said was based on several grains.  This in a tranquil peach-colored interior and with a ceremonial presentation.  Next time I want to try the Tonkatsu lunch box (a Japanese specialty) and then maybe the Mapo tofu (a Chinese dish I crave sometimes).  It was a lovely leisurely lunch.

We emerged into one of those magical spring afternoons. Early April and sunshine.  Some chain restaurants were closed for Easter but we were able to obtain ice cream at Amer’s, picking our way over the trash left from Hash Bash.  But who cared?  It was a lovely afternoon, everyone of every age I passed seemed to be in a daze and many of us returned smiles to one another.

Then slowly, slowly to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in the Michigan League.  We reminded ourselves that this building originated as the women’s union when the male undergraduates wouldn’t let them into the Union.  But let’s put all that behind us.  It was too early to go in for our matinée performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, so we wandered about the Burton Tower area.  I realized that one part of the charm of the UM campus is that it provides copious amounts of green space.  I imagined myself as an undergraduate lolling on the lawn or leaning against a tree with a book (there were one or two but most gone for the holiday).  The UM provides allées, majestic sculptures and fountains (donated, not from taxpayer dollars), sweeping plantings, benches, and green, green, green. The buildings themselves have a monumental quality, set off by their surroundings.  I realized that nearly every building has either a major open space in its vicinity or a particular one closely associated with it.  There is a nice little area just at the Lydia Mendelssohn end of the League that has some benches, some plantings not yet in flower, and a winding path.  Some people in my general age range (plus) were clustered there enjoying the sunshine.  Meanwhile Burton Tower chimed the quarter-hour, then the half-hour.  There were not many other people around but whether they were pushing strollers or warming old bones, virtually every one had the same rather goofy smile that I’m sure I was displaying.  It was just a lovely afternoon.

Then to the performance.  It was another UMGASS production.  The University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society has been active since 1947.  I’m a member of FUMGASS (Friends of…).  There is a whole network of G&S societies across the United States and elsewhere.  It is a perfect fusion of students, University personnel, and community members in a labor of love and delight.  The artistic director  (Joshua Borths) of this particular performance wrote a preamble to the program explaining the ongoing importance of G&S in this time of troubles. “For me, the operettas of G&S convey life at its most innocent and love at its purest…the experience for the audience becomes one that isn’t found in the rest of our popular culture – an experience of pure joy”.

But another aspect is that this is one of the purest community endeavors that I am engaged with.  The audience is a wonderful intergenerational mix.  But the cast and production is all “amateur” (a term incorporating “lover”) – unless you count the budding professionals from UM musical studies who will add this to their portfolios.  Many members, though, are UM students or staff who have been appearing in these performances for years though their specialties are in other fields.  Others are simply members of the community at large.  From the staff and cast bios: “major in UM Vocal Performance and Musicology at UM” “Student services coordinator in the College of LSA” “Master’s Candidate in Orchestral Conducting” “Wildlife Biologist” “UM Professor Emeritus” “vocal performance and neuroscience major”  “a graduate of UM with majors in linguistics and physics, now in his 13th semester with UMGASS” “A mom, singer, and server from Philadelphia” “retired lawyer and law professor”.  I’ve left many out, apologies.  A longtime presence has been the Zinn family, including Karl Zinn in production and David Zinn, the local illustrator whose drawings have graced many environmental and governmental publications as well as UMGASS programs over the years.

This was one of the best-performed UMGASS productions that I’ve attended for a long time. (Not that I’m complaining.) All the principals were very good, managing the trademark G&S patter song beautifully, with good strong voices.  And the joy and pride were evident.

All in all, the day typified what is glorious about Ann Arbor.  Local quirky but serious business effort.  Community-based cooperative effort to celebrate a long-term tradition.  Beautiful campus opening even to us townies.  And the sunlight.  And the goofy grins.

Local Food III

February 21, 2010

Now that it is almost time for the second Local Food Summit (March 2, 2010; click here to register), it’s a good moment for another recap of the subject.  “Local food” isn’t just a tag, it is an entire set of philosophical concepts and world view.  It is also a powerful community builder; there is scarcely anything more fundamental than sharing food.  Individuals come to it from different directions.  Some focus on the healthfulness of fresh food, grown where you “know your farmer”  (thanks, Shannon Brines, though I don’t think you originated the phrase).  Some have invested personally in the concept of sustainability, as exemplified by the new permaculture blog hosted by  Me, I’m a worrier and though those other things are important to me, I’m thinking about long-term community food security.  Yet I also rejoice in the beauty of freshly grown vegetables and fruit and of the home-prepared dishes made from them, as wonderfully expressed by The Farmer’s Marketer blog.  (The latest series on that blog is a very useful review of the consumer-supported agriculture (CSA) opportunities in the Ann Arbor area, required reading for anyone who is trying to source more food locally.  It starts with this overview.)

Kolibri kohlrabi, from the author’s garden. Good storage vegetable.

While buying food at farmers’ markets (or through CSA membership)  is a great way to be introduced to local food (and important in supporting local agriculture), growing one’s own food is a fundamental means for food security. I’m fortunate in being able to grow food in my own backyard (I’ve even committed a gardening blog, Voltaire’s Garden).  But not everyone has the ground, the sun, or the knowledge to grow their own food without assistance. The community gardening movement is essential to making this possible for people at all economic levels.  Ann Arbor’s Project Grow and Growing Hope, based in Ypsilanti, are important resources for this. As I’ve discussed at length earlier, Project Grow is a vital community food security resource for Ann Arbor. Reprehensibly and to their enduring shame, CM Hohnke, CM Greden, CM Derezinski, and Mayor Hieftje  voted against restoring a mere $7,000 to this year’s budget that would have helped Project Grow thrive in the future.  (Two CM were absent and 6 votes were needed to restore funding.  Thanks to CM Higgins, CM Briere, CM Teall, CM Taylor and CM Smith for voting to restore.) Project Grow has gone through some organizational changes.  The long-time director, Melissa Kesterson, resigned and new board members and new bylaws are in the offing.  A recent email from PG indicates that they are cutting the number of paid staff and increasing volunteer participation.  I hope and trust that they will be successful in maintaining community gardening in Ann Arbor despite cutbacks in grants from Washtenaw County and others as well as the city.  (They have a special fundraiser at Seva [314 E. Liberty] on Monday, March 29, from 5:00-9:00 p.m.; 20% of the cost of all meals purchased that night will go to Project Grow.)

Growing Hope is an Ypsilanti-based organization that is all about community food security.  They have a multi-pronged approach that includes promoting community and neighborhood gardens, training gardeners, starting plants for use in community gardens, and full-force support of the Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market (to which lower-income people can get coupons for purchase of fresh locally grown food).

Help in learning to garden and produce food is available elsewhere, too.  The UM Matthei Botanical Garden and Arboretum launched a major initiative last year and continuing it this year, called The Local Table.  They have an exciting class schedule that includes such things as growing mushrooms, keeping chickens and an ongoing support group for beekeepers.  (I’m really, really sorry that I missed the shitake mushroom day.)

Transition Ann Arbor has also taught food production skills at their “Reskilling Workshops”.

Food Gatherers, which is all about food security, started a growing program last year. They have a number of community partners who are growing food to supplement their own diets or the food distribution programs that the organization runs.  Food Gatherers also happily accepts the produce from home gardens.

Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) is a five-county consortium that is focused more on the small local producers and building a food system of producers, distribution, and consumers in Southeast Michigan.  Their annual conference this year is June 24 in Jackson.  Their website also has links to other exciting programs like Ann Arbor Township’s Small Farms Initiative.

Like so many gardeners and would-be gardeners, I’m starting to get out the seed packets and thinking about my planting schedule.  I hope that this spring can bring ever more local food production and a growing (pun intended) energy around this important issue.

UPDATE: I recently learned that Edible Avalon is showing a new spurt of energy.  According to the coordinator, Kris Kaul,  it is being conducted this year in conjunction with Food Gatherers, under a grant (I haven’t been able yet to find out from where).  The idea is to help tenants at Avalon Housing grow their own vegetables.

SECOND UPDATE: Here is a story on Ann Arbor Chronicle about the recent food summit.

THIRD UPDATE: There will be a fundraiser for Edible Avalon at Zingerman’s Roadhouse on April 11.  Here’s what the Zingermans’ newsletter says about it:

Join bestselling author and food visionary, Michael Pollan, at Zingerman’s Roadhouse for an intimate conversation about the revolution in food and farming underway in the United States. He will present a unique personal view of the forces behind the current headlines dealing with food and health. Part of the evening’s conversation will be based on questions from the audience. Proceeds from this fundraiser will support Ann Arbor’s Homegrown Festival and the Edible Avalon Project: a community garden program supporting low income residents in Washtenaw County in growing their own organic food. The event will also support the work of the Center for Economic Security in making “Growing Health,” a film illuminating the connections between healthy living soil and reduction in chronic disease.

Chef Alex Young will prepare a delicious selection of appetizers for the reception, using ingredients from his own Cornman Farms.

$500 – includes private reception with Michael Pollan, conversation & book-signing,
Package of Chris Bedford’s DVDs, and Pollan’s 3 books.  (This is at 5:30.)

$150 – includes the conversation and book-signing (Starts at 6:00)

The newsletter doesn’t give a phone number to call for information; I’d try the Roadhouse.

FOURTH UPDATE: Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) has some great training events going on this fall for people considering getting into growing for the market.  See here.

FIFTH UPDATE: The Spring 2010 Community Observer has a good article (not available online yet, see arborweb in a few weeks): Growing Closer by Michael Betzold.  It is about the efforts to have more small local growers produce food.

SIXTH UPDATE: Hoop, hoop, hooray! A great story about St. Joe’s using its resources to grow food for patients and the community is in the Chronicle (April 14, 2010).

Jerusaleum Garden and the Character of Ann Arbor

July 11, 2009

A visit to the Ann Arbor Public Library coincided with a need for a lunch solution today, so I stopped in at Jerusaleum Garden for the first time in a while.  They seem to have a new menu and are generally looking spiffy.  I sat in the adjoining patio that they share with Earthen Jar (a vegetarian Indian restaurant that sells its food from steam tables by the pound).  It was a perfect summer day, just hot enough to make welcome a languid moment watching passersby while surrounded by diners and potted flowers.  I was also pleasantly impressed with lunch – for $15 we got a fully loaded lunch for two (leftovers will serve for a couple more days).  The tabbouli had a number of chopped vegetables, including carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes in it, along with the required parsley in good proportion, and a light lemon dressing.  The falafel was not oily.  The yogurt salad was generously loaded with chopped cucumbers.  It was a perfect summer lunch in one of the places that gives Ann Arbor its special local character.  I hope that it is not endangered.

Think Local First has a really fun T-shirt that I first saw Steve Bean modeling at a Transition Ann Arbor meeting.  It says, “Keep Ann Arbor Funky”.  (Sadly, they were on sale at Shaman Drum, another special piece of Ann Arbor that just closed.)   I agree with the sentiment.  What is it?  “Funky” has gone through many meaning changes, including references to “funk” music.  But “characterized by originality and modishness; unconventional” or more simply, as another source gives it, “hip“, is what we are looking for here, along with an acknowledgment of a slightly down-at-the-heel character, as in the computing definition, where “(funky) is said of something that functions, but in a slightly strange, klugey way. It does the job and would be difficult to change, so its obvious non-optimality is left alone”.

Many of our beloved institutions (I’m thinking of eating places, but there are others) are like this – not always bright and shiny, but real originals that bring character to the town in a way that the newest “concept” can’t.  They are individual and irreplaceable, and they are being lost.  We have lost Red Hot Lovers (though it may re-emerge in another location).  We have lost Tios, though the restaurant has moved to McKinley’s Liberty Street complex.   Happily, Blimpy’s lives.

I can hear the boos and jeers now.   “Ann Arbor in Amber.”  (Jon Zemke of Concentrate pulled off a classic with his “amber NIMBY neighborhoods”).  Yet without anchors of its unique and personal character, Ann Arbor could be a moderately affluent suburb anywhere.   The Ann Arbor Chronicle has been finding a number of posts from other communities  (listed in their Old Media and New Media sections) where Ann Arbor is spoken of enviously.  Being called a living museum may not sound complimentary, but the artificial communities sometimes called lifestyle centers try to emulate it.  Other cities literally build theme parks trying to capture that sense of genuine character that we possess now.  (I was amused to note that Hyde Park,  the home of our current President, has Ann Arbor envy, though funkiness is not mentioned in the article.)

But can character stand up against the relentless press of development?  Look again at the picture of Zaragon Place looming over the hapless shell of Red Hot Lovers. The property has evidently become too valuable.  When the City Council begins to develop the Library Lot,  will Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden survive?  I hope so, else we will have lost a little bit of ourselves.

Knights’ ‘Hood

April 22, 2009

For a truly townie experience, do what we did last weekend and go to Knight’s.  It has been an occasional habit to stop by on Saturday for lunch and have one of their excellent hamburgers, often preceded by a cup of soup made on the premises.  My eye caught a modest notice on the door that this weekend (Sunday, April 26), there would be a 25th anniversary celebration of the restaurant from 2:00 to 5:00 with “complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar”.

That was all the notice that anyone is likely to get.  Unless, maybe, you were already signed up as a “friend” on their website.  Even the website doesn’t have information about the open house and I’m pretty sure Knight’s has never, never advertised.  In fact, they don’t even have a sign.  If you don’t realize that the building on Dexter Avenue across from Veteran’s Park is a restaurant and not a private club, you might never enter. The only information you are given is the large image of a chess knight outside.

There really are Knights.  It is a family business and the patriarch, Ray Knight, is supposed to be at the festivities on Sunday.  His son Don Knight runs the restaurant now, while his brother Bob runs the market.

Oh, yes, the market.  It is another mysterious building with only chess knights to tell its story. Whenever I stop by for some of their excellent ground beef, I’m likely to run into someone I know (it is at Spring and Miller,  in my ‘hood).  I’m told that the business started with the market, where real attention was paid to the meat.  Then in 1984 the restaurant was opened.  They are still about the meat.  I interviewed Mr. Knight for an article I wrote on local food and learned that he brings in sides of prime beef that are cut on the spot.  The meat that doesn’t go to the restaurant is meticulously tailored into familiar cuts and laid out in an open cooler near the front of the store.  They also buy Amish chickens from a Michigan producer and cut them up themselves.  (If you ask nicely, they’ll save you the backs for making soup.)  You won’t find many inexpensive cuts there, but the few times we bought steak for special occasions, it justified the hype.  They also have bulk bacon and sausages in the cooler. You can request special cuts if you give them a couple of days.  Otherwise, it is much like a well-stocked convenience store except that they carry a few local items like Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory chips, Angelo’s raisin bread, and Knight’s own brownies.

As for the restaurant (which may be called Knight’s Steakhouse or Knight’s Bar/Restaurant, depending on where you look), it is solid good food, confidently prepared and deftly served.  The prices are reasonable for the quality and the drinks are a good value.  Going there for dinner is like shrugging into a comfortable garment, if you are able to avoid the smoke successfully.  (There are non-smoking areas and some nights they limit smoking to the bar.) Though beef is the main attraction, they usually have some very decent fish dishes, and those are usually what I select.  I’ve now discovered that the specials are posted on the website.  This caused me some grief when I read that they had the pork schnitzel with pierogi and red cabbage the other night.  Maybe next time.

By the way, don’t plan to go on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any really special day.  Even weekday evenings there is usually a wait.  And be prepared to run into someone you know.  If you’ve lived here long enough.

UPDATE: According to the May 2009 Ann Arbor Observer, the market is now being managed by Sherry Knight Bedolla.  She is introducing some modernizations including more prepared food.  I’ve been noticing more fresh produce and other touches, but apparently more is underway.  The meat is staying.

UPDATE: We went because the appetizer special was the pork schnitzel plus the pierogies.  Wish they’ d make this a dinner special, with a red cabbage side.

UPDATE:   October 2011: I doubt that the Knights were reading this blog post, but they did put the pork schnitzel with pierogies and red cabbage on the regular menu!   (To see the Knight’s night’s specials, see their online menu , usually posted mid-afternoon.)  If you want a classic steak dinner or the other solid standards on their menu, you are in good hands.  Often my husband simply orders one of their hamburgers for dinner, with a side of salad and/or a cup of soup.  (Did I mention that their soups are superlative?)  They clearly have a chef working for them.  In addition to the rotating offers on the specials of the classic pot roast, roast chicken, turkey dinner, and meatloaf, there are often innovative or even daring specials, often with an Italian or Cajun twist.  Tonight the menu also includes the classics Shrimp Scampi and Trout Amandine.

Since the state smoking ban, Knight’s is crowded almost every night (Mon-Sat) that they are open.  A hint:  you can call ahead to put your name on the waiting list.  No, you’ll have to look up the number yourself.
Meanwhile, the market has also been undergoing upgrades, including a new automatic front door and a new meat cooler with expanded choices.  There are more and more local products and special fresh baked goods.

The thrilling news is that they are attempting to put a bakery in next to the market.  This is requiring a rezoning. From ETrakit:

“A proposal to rezone 306, 308, 310 Spring from R2A (Two-Family Dwelling District) to C1 (Local Business) to allow the residential dwelling at 306 Spring to be converted to a bakery use. No new floor area or additional parking is proposed.”

Please, Planning Commissioners, grant us this boon.  Think of how much those of us in the ‘hood will treasure having a Knight’s bakery within walking distance.  Please?

UPDATE January 2012

If you call ahead for a booth, it can be a very cozy place on a winter’s night.

UPDATE: Knight’s Market has finished a renovation.  Here is the new front door:

They have a new meat cooler, too.

UPDATE September 2012

As reported here by, Knight’s has received final approval of zoning changes that will permit renovation of the market and a new bakery and food prep area in the existing house on the property.  Great things anticipated.

UPDATE  February 2013 reports that Ray Knight, the founder of Knight’s and of a successful clan of Knights, died on February 16.  The article has a nice picture of the five Knight siblings who now run the operation, plus some good interviews with them.

UPDATE June 2013

A stunning move by the Knight family will lead to a downtown restaurant in the old Borders Building.  We don’t know details of the name, or the menu.

UPDATE October 2013

Chitchat with various family members and staff indicate that the bakery on Spring is on hold until the new restaurant downtown is established.

UPDATE January 2014

The Knights have now launched a website for the Liberty restaurant.   They are now scheduling interviews for new hires and forecasting a March opening.  They’ll be open on Sundays downtown.   Looks as though the name will be “Knight’s”.  (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.)