Live in the Milwaukee area and in search of fresh, local produce during the winter months? Well, you’re in luck. Every Saturday morning from November to April, local farmers and food producers set up shop indoors for the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers’ Market in the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center on the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds. (Note: In October 2013, the market moved to its new location at the Mitchell Park Domes, 524 South Layton Boulevard, Milwaukee, WI 53215) For the last four years, Milwaukee area residents have taken advantage of the easy access to locally-sourced food as if it were the summer months. From vegetables to fruit, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, artisan cheeses and bakery, the options are delicious and plentiful. Really, there’s no better place to do your grocery shopping on a chilly winter morning. “Our market’s mission is to promote local, sustainable agriculture; increase economic opportunities for small family farms and innovative food businesses; provide equitable access to wholesome food; and build a vibrant gathering place for metro Milwaukee residents and visitors,” says Deb Deacon, the market manager. Besides being an avenue for purchasing local, the market, in its fourth year, also thrives on supporting small family farms during the otherwise unreliable winter months.
The evolution of the market
The initial development of the Milwaukee Winter Farmers’ Market was formed by Bill Stone, co-owner of Brightonwoods Orchard in Burlington, Wis., and then president of the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association (WAGA). Inspired by the winter version of the Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison, Wis., and Harbor Market in Kenosha, Wis., Bill had hopes of building a successful winter market in the Milwaukee area.
In January 2009, that dream became a reality as the WAGA agreed to be the funding agency for development of the new urban winter market. The market’s first year drew 30 vendors, 21 of which still attend the market. Throughout the market’s first two years, it operated under the oversight of WAGA’s executive director, Anna Maenner. Maenner worked on the logistics for the market and managed a special Farmers Market Promotion Program grant from the Agricultural Marketing Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Because Maenner had experience running the Apple Growers’ booth at the annual Wisconsin State Fair, she was able to secure the market’s venue, the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center, located in the northwest corner of Wisconsin State Fair Park. The Center continues to be home for the market today. Thanks in large part to Deacon, who has been a part of the market since the beginning, the market’s mission hasn’t changed. “Diverse, small-scale family-owned farms from southern Wisconsin have access to a more reliable and consistent annual income and realize they have a market that justifies extending their operational season,” says Deacon. “It also provides a low-cost experimental venue for new value added products.”
Tasked with vendor recruitment and market promotion, Deacon has initiated the market’s website and Facebook pages, and also visits vendors’ businesses and farms. As the market continues to grow in size (50 producers this year whose attendance ranges from three to 22 weeks), Deacon says a future goal of the market would be to secure a larger space to accommodate all of the vendors.
The market hosts a market breakfast each year. Milwaukee area chefs that specialize in using local ingredients come in and create a menu that uses the products and ingredients from the market’s producers. Wisconsin Foodie documented last year’s market breakfast on a recent episode.
What you can find at the market
Products available at the market include:
- Grass-based meat: lamb, beef, goat, pork, elk, and bison; charcuterie
- Pastured poultry and free-range eggs
- Trout raised in artesian fed ponds
- Artisan cheese, ice cream, butter
- Apples, vegetables and fresh herbs
- Breads and baked goods
- Oats (in a variety of formats), granola
- Specialty food producers that make fresh pasta, seasonal jams & jellies, pickled vegetables, salsas, pasta sauces, herbal teas/butters/pestos, frozen soups, organic caramels, and savory ethnic cuisine (Greek and Mexican)
- Honey, Maple Syrup, Sorghum
- Coffee and apple cider
- Fresh flower arrangements
- Stone ground flour
- Dried edible beans
- Frozen corn
- For your four-legged friends, you can also find elk antlers, beef bones and other treats.
Indoor Market November 2, 2013 to April 19, 2014 Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Mitchell Park Domes
524 South Layton Boulevard
Milwaukee, WI 53215