Beloit farmers market nurturing a growing community
BELOIT-- For the past 49 years, the Beloit farmers market has provided locals with fresh food, homemade jewelry, live music and much more.
Located in downtown Beloit, the market features more than 90 vendors and attracts more than 5,000 visitors per week, according to Shauna El-Amin, executive director of the Downtown Beloit Association.
El-Amin says that the balance of offerings at the market is carefully maintained through the vendor selection process.
"We try to have over 50 percent strictly produce," she said, adding that at least 50 percent of craft vendors' products must be self-made.
The vast array of produce stands at the market range from larger businesses, such as Wright Way Farms, to smaller family affairs such as Kathy and Hank Baumann's farm.
As Kathy Baumann recalls, "My husband used to go door to door with the little red wagon (selling produce)."
Hank Baumann grew up in the farmers market atmosphere. His father was one of the first vendors at the original market in the 1960s when there were fewer than 10 stands. After attempts to grow soybeans and corn in the 1980s were financially unsuccessful, the Baumanns moved back toward produce farming and eventually set up their stand at the modern market.
They now feature asparagus, a blueberry bush and other seasonal crops. Hank says that part of their popularity stems from the modern trend of organic eating, which has inspired more customers to seek out where their food comes from and meet the growers.
"We have a lot of regulars," he says. "People know us and they come right here."
Scott Roberts, owner of Birds and the Bees, is much the same way. An area native who moved just outside of Janesville in 2010 to start his current enterprise, Roberts has been at the market for the past two years and enjoys getting to meet his customers.
Although he sells a variety of products from his farm and garden, his personal favorites are the beehives from which he harvests and sells fresh honey. He started with two of them when he resumed farming five years ago, and today has 10 fully functioning hives. "I like my bees," he says.
Not all vendors peddle produce, however. Local author Kimberly Vogel has been selling her books and merchandise from a stand for the past four years. She has written 65 works of fiction in a variety of genres ranging from mystery to fantasy to young adult. One of her goals is to write a book with a title from every letter of the alphabet. So far, only "X" eludes her.
Vogel says she originally became interested in the market through word-of-mouth rather than visiting herself. Hoping to find a venue to sell her work, she contacted Downtown Beloit and was told to come down so they could figure out a booth.
"It's a lot better exposure than trying to market yourself on the Internet," she explains. Today, she is a fixture at the market selling her books, T-shirts, stickers and other self-designed items as well as candy, which is a big hit with visiting kids.
Another distinctive stand is Mayhew Mosaics, operated on and off for the past six years by best friends Cheryl Klitzman and Nancy Mayhew.
Although they have been selling their goods for a while, this is the first year they have had a permanent spot for their stand. Both women work with cuts of stained glass and jewelry to create unique pieces. Mayhew makes designs on stones -- she says that dragonflies are particularly well-received -- and glass portraits, while Klitzman makes unique and colorful designs on the backs of concrete animal molds.
"Turtles are really popular," she said.
In keeping with the friendly spirit of the market, each of the statues has a name. Klitzman and Mayhew said that many of their designs are special orders that get picked up during market time. These include headstones for pets' graves, garden decorations. In addition to customers, family and friends often stop by.
"We're Beloit girls," Mayhew said, explaining that the market is a great chance to socialize with loved ones. Klitzman agrees: "It's a relaxing, fun day."
Beloit College student and frequent shopper Glenne Tietzer also is a fan of the atmosphere. A junior at Beloit Colege, Tietzer says she has been going to the farmers market since she arrived at the college in the fall of 2012. "That was one of the first things I did when I got here," she recalls.
El-Amin praises the sense of community the market provides and outlines plans for the future, including next year's 50th anniversary celebration.
"We already have a great base of vendors, we have a great base of shoppers," she said, adding that they hope to continue building on the family-friendly atmosphere with more activities in the years to come.
The farmers market is located at the intersection of State and Grand streets. Hours are 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays from May to October.