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September 2014


Oconomowoc winter market part of a new trend

Summer farmer markets evolve into winter events

The advent of winter - with its freezing temperatures, snow drifts, and frozen tundra - does not mean that Wisconsin consumers, particularly those in Lake Country, can no longer buy locally grown fruits, vegetables, dairy, poultry and livestock products.

The scores of vendors and consumers who showed up for the first weekend of the second annual Oconomowoc Winter Farmers Market on Saturday, Nov. 12, is an indication that the production and sale of locally grown foods is becoming a significant year-round contributor to the state's $7 billion agricultural economy.

The market is located at the Oconomowoc Landscape Supply and Garden Center, at the intersection of Highways K and 67, and will be conducted on the second and fourth Sundays of each month during the winter, with the exception of December and April, when there will be one Sunday market.

Products include greens, garlic, squash, apples, mushrooms, baked goods, vegetables, cheese, sauces, canned and jarred fruits, and vegetables as well has honeys, oils and vinegars, in addition to dairy, poultry and meat and pork products.

Most of the produce sold at the winter farmers market are planted in late August and early September.

Vendors range in size from Dave's Famous Pickles and Sweet Spicy, a one-person business owned by Dave Shanklin of Okauchee, to La Belle's Cheeses, owned by John and Kim Koepke, who operate a 300-cow dairy farm near Mapleton.

"Farmers markets are a trend that large producers have recognized. But there are also smaller producers who do it as a hobby or as a part-time job that they enjoy because it takes them to a time we were more rural. I think they are popular here because there is still a lot of country in Lake Country," John Koepke said.

The popularity of farmers markets during the summer has evolved into the recent development of more than a half-dozen markets during the winter including, Oconomowoc, Milwaukee and Madison.

"I buy at summer farmers markets all the time," explained Laurie Natzke of Oconomowoc.

"I like it that the food is raised locally. It is homemade. There is freshness to the flavor that you don't get in grocery stores," she added as she browsed the various vendors at last weeks market.

"It's great," said Mike Kraetsch of the Town of Erin.

"We believe in eating healthy. This is a way we can find to eat locally produced food in the winter," added his wife Barbara, who pointed out they are frequent customers of summer farmers markets.

The Kraetschs were carefully inspecting Shawn Rediske's of Lake Mills bakery products from his newly-minted small business, Water House Foods, a cafe and bake house.

Baking was a hobby for Shawn until about four years ago when a neighbor took his bread products to a local grocery store and convinced the store owner to include the bread in his inventory.

"I had orders before I had a business," Rediske quipped

Rediske is a veteran of the Milwaukee County winter market, which opened three years ago at the Tommy Thompson building in the state fair grounds, and the Oconomowoc market that began last year.

"I think the people (consumers) at the Milwaukee market are a little more a tuned to the farmers market ethic while the people out here seem more interested in supporting local producers," he said.

Melissa Cookson of Oconomowoc later confirmed one of the reasons she was shopping at the market was "to support local people."

The farmers' market ethic, as defined by Rediske, focuses on food grown locally, naturally, without chemicals and fertilizers, and in a manner that promotes good health for humans, animals and the land.

State trends

The ethic fits neatly into Wisconsin's culture that emphasizes the use and conservation of natural resources, agriculture, outdoor sports and activities, and rural and woodlands live styles, according to Lisa Geason-Bauer, a marketing consultant who comes from a multigenerational Lake Country farm family.

She believes there are combination of factors contributing to the evolution and success of small, local producers of agricultural products.

There is a growing concern among consumers, particularly seniors and mothers of young children, about how and where their food is being produced and a belief that freshly and naturally produced food can help prevent and combat a wide range of diseases.

"If you look at the people who were at the market on Sunday, they ranged from people in their 30s to 50s, along with some baby boomers in their 60s," she noted.

The nationwide sale of local foods through farmers markets, farm stands, or to grocery stores and restaurants, approached $5 billion in 2008 and is expected to reach at least $7 billion in 2011, according to the United States Department of Agricultural.

Wisconsin has become a leader in the production and sale of locally grown agricultural products.

The state ranks second in the nation in the number of government certified organic farms. It ranks ninth in the number of farmer's markets according to the USDA.

Some believe the USDA's estimate of 231 farmers markets in Wisconsin is too conservative, particularly considering there are about 70 markets in southeastern Wisconsin alone, according to the 2011 Fresh Farm Atlas.

The popularity of summer and winter farmers markets had already produced another new, small agribusiness, according Fred Guenterberg of Watertown.

Guenterberg and his wife Julie own Watertown Farm Market Kitchen, a company that provides commercial kitchen facilities for farmers market vendors who sell canned, jarred or cook foods. State law requires those foods be prepared in a commercial kitchen before they be sold at the market.

There were several vendors at the market including Pam Ella's Artisan Patissei, owned by Pam Graham of Oconomowoc, who are clients of Guenterberg's.

Guenterberg, a Watertown farmer who opened the business last year, predicts that because of a number of economic factors "there are always going to be the micro businesses - some of them hobbies - but there are also a few that are going to be very successful and grow much bigger."

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