Summer’s bounty
An expanded 26-week farmers market season begins May 3

By Ryan Billingham - Enterprise Staff

April 24, 2014

LaBelle cheeses will be featured at the summer farmer's market, which starts two weeks
earlier this year on May 3.  

OCONOMOWOC - The Oconomowoc Farmers Market will kick off two weeks earlier this year, starting on May 3, and will open at 7 a.m. each Saturday in the south municipal lot behind the Avenue Square Mall, 175 E. Wisconsin Avenue.

“(By) expanding the summer (market) to 26 weeks and with the winter market we get closer to having year-round fresh food in our community,” said Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katie Miller. “It’s the goal we keep striving for.”

The market will now run 26 weeks from May 3 through Oct. 25,  which is an emerging industry standard, Miller said. It will feature 37 vendors and (to date) two concessionaires.

In response to vendor and customer feedback the market will also open 30 minutes earlier at 7 a.m.

“We did a survey of customers and vendors last year and they overwhelmingly said they wanted a longer market,” Miller said.

Miller and Market Planning Committee Chair Lisa Geason-Bauer asked that patrons respect the 7 a.m. opening so that staff can create a safe and attractive event each week.

The summer farmers market isn't just about ready-to-eat produce, it offers shoppers the opportunity to become their own local food producers by selling seedlings and plants.   

“We’ll be really working hard and fast to get everybody set and get the barricades up, so we’re really encouraging people to hold off until 7 a.m. to do their shopping,” Miller said.

The market will also feature Electronic Benefit Transfer/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which were piloted during the winter market. The program is known as the QUEST card in Wisconsin.

“We believe strongly in making fresh, local food available to all of our neighbors,” Miller said. “Folks can visit the market to redeem their EBT benefits for market tokens which will be accepted by a number of vendors.”

Bauer said she expects to see a boost in usage of the system now that it’s being featured at the more traditional summer market.

“There is quite a need in our area for people to have access to fresh, healthy local food,” Geason-Bauer said.
 

Artisan Row returns

Artisan Row will return on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. It features local artisans selling everything from jewelry to home furnishings.

Market Coordinator JoEllen Stearns said that the artisan vendors have a fairly strict set of requirements including products being made locally, sourced locally and made of 25 percent reused materials.

The summer farmers market helps brighten home gardens.
Submitted photos  

Artisan Row’s popularity is a positive for the market, but all three organizers said the focus is on the traditional vendors.

Most farmers markets are run by a committee of farmers and vendors, while the city’s market is run by the chamber.

“It is unusual for a chamber to be the lead agency in a farmers market but it gives us an opportunity to create outreach opportunities for our members and vice versa,” Miller said. “One of the ways we have leveraged the farmers market to benefit the business community is through our day sponsor program.”

The program allows chamber businesses to set up an an information booth at the market for the day. Miller said it was very successful in its launch last year. 

The move to the south municipal parking lot has fostered growth in the market.

“Our attendance has been steadily rising and based on vendor demand and desire to come to our market, I have to believe they are seeing some success,” Miller said.

Geason-Bauer estimates the market saw 35,000 visitors this year and expects that to grow.

For more information, contact the chamber at 567-2666, email JoEllen Stearns at joellen@oconomowoc.org or visit www.oconomowoc.org.

Email: rbillingham@conleynet.com