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Thursday, 02 July 2015 09:01

Farmers markets feed need for fresh foods, healthy knowledge

Written by  Dennis Hines
Sonja Schlesner talks with a customer at a recent Delavan Fresh Market in downtown Delavan. Schlesner is among a group of local growers who not only sell their fresh produce at area markets, but also help educate customers about locally grown food. Sonja Schlesner talks with a customer at a recent Delavan Fresh Market in downtown Delavan. Schlesner is among a group of local growers who not only sell their fresh produce at area markets, but also help educate customers about locally grown food. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Red beets and green lettuce, tart cherries and sweet peas -- they all sprout from the soil each Wisconsin summer.

As myriad the varieties of plants, so too are the reasons that small-scale farmers and growers work the soil and share the bounty at local markets.

For Sonja Schlesner, participating in farmers markets gives her an opportunity to meet people and educate them about locally grown produce.

“A lot of people are unaware of how their food grows,” Schlesner said. “It’s neat, because you get to educate people as well as feed them good food.”

At the Delavan Fresh Market, held each Thursday in Tower Park, Schlesner's produce offerings include cherries, lettuce, kale, garlic, beets, heirloom tomatoes and vegetable plants. Schlesner grows the produce at her farm, Peach Tree Organic Gardens, 2609 County Highway O near Delavan.

“Our food is organically grown, which is really important to us,” Schlesner said. “We’ve been certified since 2012.”

Schlesner has been participating in farmers markets for about 10 years. Besides the Delavan Fresh Market, she also sells produce at farmers markets in Brookfield and Fontana.

“It’s how I make my living,” she said.

Schlesner said her father helped her become interested in gardening.

“I just liked the idea that you could grow vegetables for a living,” Schlesner said. “We do it on the smaller, family farm scale. We like it that way. We don’t need to be big.”

A small operation also is just right for 13-year-old Jasmin Speth, another vendor at the Delavan Fresh Market.

In her second year of selling at the market, the Delavan girl said she mostly offers spinach and radishes that are grown in the family garden.

Speth’s dad and sister sparked her interest in gardening.

“My dad and my sister went to this (market) and a couple of other ones a few years ago and I thought it was cool, so I did it,” Speth said.

Fellow Delavan market vendors Rhonda and Larry Voss are inspired to sell fresh produce by people they haven’t even met yet.

The Vosses are selling fresh fruits and vegetables at the Delavan and Elkhorn markets to help fund their planned move to Kenya, where they’ll dedicate their time to helping orphans.

“We’re selling our house. We’re selling our belongings, everything but the children,” Rhonda Voss said. “They’re already grown, so they’re all good.”

The couple is moving to Kenya to participate in a ministry program that provides housing to orphans after they graduate from high school so they can continue with education and transition to living independently.

It will take plenty of the onions, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, melons and sweet corn the Vosses are selling this summer to get to Kenya, but they have help with their cause.

The couple receives their produce from Twin Garden Farms in Harvard, Illinois, which also is donating funding for their move.

“The are generously donating proceeds for outgoing expenses,” Voss said. “Twin Gardens approached us and asked if they could partner with us to help with our expenses, and we said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

“So far, so good,” Voss said of business at the local farmers markets. “Each week we’re doing a little bit better. As more produce comes in, we’ll get more customers.”

For gardener and vendor Ga Vang, her aunt was the inspiration for growing and selling home-grown items at farmers markets.

“My aunt has a garden, and it made me want to do it,” said Vang, who mostly sells celery, peas and flowers that she grows near Madison.

Vang is a vendor at markets in Delavan, Lake Geneva and Janesville (see a list of area markets on Page 14.)

“I bought her (Vang’s) peas in Lake Geneva and they are wonderful,” said Bill Bearder, a Lake Geneva resident. “She always has a corner stand in Lake Geneva at Horticultural Hall, and I always buy vegetables from her. I recommend her produce.

“She always has huge floral arrangements when her flowers start to bloom.”

Vang is among a full market of vendors in Lake Geneva.

“When I took over about four years ago, we probably had about 24 vendors,” said Sean Payne, market organizer. “Now, we have between 45 to 60 vendors each week. We have a waiting list of 15 to 20 vendors to get in.”

Payne said vendors are required to produce their own items.

“They have to grow their own food. The only exception is seafood,” he said. “Anyone can call me and I’ll check out their home or business to inspect their items. They also have to have the appropriate license.”

The Lake Geneva Farmers Market has been going on for about 20 years, but a similar form of commerce is at least a century old here, Payne said.

“Portions of (the hall) were built about 100 years ago,” Payne said. “People would bring in flowers and vegetables to trade. We still have the original spaces of the building that we still use.”

The Fontana Farmers Market is growing, too.

Held from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at Porter Court Plaza, the market offers fresh local food in a scenic setting, said market founder Maryanne Bruss.

About a dozen vendors offer items including organic fruits and vegetables, chicken and eggs, jam, jelly, bread and flowers, Bruss said.

“It’s a great place to spend a Saturday and get fresh food for the weekend cookout or weekend party,” she said.

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