Farmers markets help nourish local economies as well
By Mali Anderson
If you are interested in quality, a farmers market is a good place to be. At the market, customers can enjoy flavorful produce and be sure, with every purchase, that their individual dollars are providing fair compensation to a local farmer. Farmers markets enhance quality of life, to both customers and growers, within an environment that is ideal for exchanging recipes, learning kitchen preparation techniques and meeting your neighbors face-to-face. Milwaukee farmers markets are good spots to turn to for stocking our kitchens with nutritious produce while supporting our local economy and strengthening our communities.
Local farmers markets such as the Fondy Farmers Market on Fond du Lac Ave. just north of North Ave., the Riverwest Gardeners Market in Garden Park and the South Shore Farmers Market in South Shore Park are just a handful of the thriving markets scattered throughout southeastern Wisconsin. These markets provide personal and societal benefits while offering individuals the opportunity to experience the bounty of Wisconsin’s rural farmlands and Milwaukee’s urban agriculture gardens. In spring, we can enjoy the harvest of greens, in summer we see the red tomatoes and purple eggplants and as fall approaches, we watch the orange and yellow of pumpkins and squashes fill the stands.
The delectable taste and crisp texture of market vegetables have led many of us to suspect that local produce is healthier than the shipped conventional grocery store variety. Studies confirm our instincts. Produce begins to lose nutritional value once it has been picked and any bruising through extensive travel can encourage oxidization, which increases the decline in the nutritional value of produce. Having access to produce soon after it is harvested brings the healthiest meal to the dining room table.
Knowing logically what makes a nourishing meal has not led to widespread access to healthy food. In a society as wealthy as ours, it could be assumed that all residents have access to farm fresh food but a 1997 Hunger Task Force study found that access was limited in certain areas of our city. The food security study found some neighborhoods “underserved by groceries and overserved by non-nutritious convenience stores,” says Charles Vestal, Director of Development for the Hunger Task Force. The Hunger Task Force responded to this disparity found in their findings and worked to establish public markets, especially in areas with poverty. Fondy Farmers Market, an outgrowth of other neighborhood markets, was a result of this effort to provide “affordable and nutritious fruits and vegetables in low-income neighborhoods,” continued Vestal.
Once a farmers market is in the neighborhood, the variety of produce is sure to tantalize. The assortment of choices can help individuals add more fruits and vegetables to their diets. At a farmers market, it is easy to find a new food that will make an exciting addition to your next salad, stir-fry or sauce. If you are tempted by variety, the Fondy Farmers Market might be the place you’ve been searching for.
“We have more than 19 varieties of greens,” says Young Kim, Executive Director of the Fondy Food Center. “Two of them we have yet to identify. They are Asian varieties and when the farmers are asked they know the Hmong name for it or the Asian name for it but the western name is unknown. We have circulated the photographs of the greens amongst people who should know this sort of thing and they don’t know what it is … it’s kind of a mystery. We also have something new last year called tossa jute, it is a vegetable that is popular in south Asia and also the Caribbean.”
Buy regional food and boost local budgets
In addition to the personal gain of having nutritious meals at your dinner table, farmers markets, co-ops and CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture) stimulate our local and regional economies. “They can ‘incubate’ and support food-related businesses. They also support family farms, the traditional backbone of Wisconsin’s rural economy,” says Vestal. The types of products sold vary from one location to another, but consistently include a wide array of the goods Wisconsin has to offer.
The South Shore Farmers Market has “lots of produce including organic and chemical-free [varieties]… there are vendors who offer cherries and strawberries, flowers, honey, maple syrup, eggs and frozen chickens, coffee, bakery (including artisan, vegan and Mexican), raw foods, crepes, cheese, salad dressings, sandwiches and tamales,” says Katie Williams, assistant manager of themarket. The wide range of products sold helps us to see our region in a new way. We can recognize our historical crops and welcome the foods that have been introduced by immigrant communities. The Fondy Farmers Market is “a kind of crossroads for Milwaukee,” says Kim, “we have a lot of Eastern European immigrants, folks from South Asia and the Caribbean. There is quite a bit of produce at Fondy that goes beyond what you normally think of when you think of Wisconsin produce.”
Supporting local farmers is essential to their continued survival. In the business of conventional retail grocery, farmers have been receiving a smaller portion of profits as the general public has demanded cheaper food. A higher percentage of food prices have been delegated to the fees for shipping, handling and processing our groceries. Over the past 30 years, the farmer’s portion of profit from a loaf of bread sold at a conventional supermarket decreased from 11% to 4%. This decline in farmer compensation is a direct result of the commerce of industrial farming in which a few large corporations are making the lion’s share of the profits. When you buy direct from the farmer, or shop at a co-op or CSA, this pay cut to growers can be averted or minimized. The money that changes hands locally will help the farmers to make a personal profit, which in turn invigorates our regional economy.
A summer social life that sizzles
Throughout history, cities and civilizations have developed around a market. They are places where people gather, spaces where people assemble and exchange ideas and cultural traditions with others. Williams says, “The South Shore Farmers Market is really like the ‘town square.’ If you want to know anything happening in Bay View, you need to be there.” This process of animating public spaces can help to renew a neighborhood that has been neglected, or fortify the bonds of a strong community. New residents can be introduced to the vitality of their community while long time citizens can share the lore and secret spots of the area.
Our individual health, the wellbeing of our regional economy and the strength of our communities can all be treated as one concern when we support local farmers markets. If we work together to establish access to wholesome lifestyles for all Milwaukee residents we can guarantee a prosperous existence for the populace of our city. Local markets are good locations to put this methodology into practice. So grab your market bag and prepare to be entranced with the sights, smells and new recipes of the season.
The Fondy Farmers Market <www.fondymarket.org> is open Saturdays, May 9-June 20; Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, June 27-Oct. 31; Saturdays, Nov. 7-21.
The Riverwest Gardeners Market is open Sundays, June 21-Oct. 25
The South Shore Farmers Market is open Saturdays, June 20-Oct. 17.
Want more? You can search for farmers markets, CSAs and co-ops by region at www.localharvest.org.