A growing enterprise
Tomatoes fresh off the vine and grass-fed beef.
Baby spinach and baby Swiss.
The Janesville Farmers Market opens Saturday. A week later, the Beloit Farmers Market begins its season with its “presale” market.
For shoppers in both cities, the markets offer opportunities to eat produce just hours off of the vine—or out of the ground. It’s also a great place for baked goods, local apples, meat, eggs and cheese.
In Janesville, the policy is all-local, all the time, said Randy Thompson, director of the farmers market board.
In Beloit, the market allows producers from outside the state, including a seafood vendor, said Kathleen Braatz, executive director of the Downtown Beloit Association and farmers market coordinator.
“We’re right on the state line, and some of our producers are from Illinois,” explained Braatz.
Both officials, however, stressed the importance of supporting local producers.
“It’s always about meeting the grower and connecting in a way you couldn’t elsewhere,” Braatz said.
“We encourage folks to buy local and support local producers,” Thompson said. “No. 1, you’ve increased your quality—think of the freshness of those products. You have a opportunity to meet the grower, you’re supporting the local economy and, if you think in terms of saving the environment, you’re buying food that hasn’t been transported across the country.”
Here’s everything you need to know about this summer’s farmers’ markets:
When and where
Janesville’s market runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays from May 10 to Oct. 25. The market is downtown, in the 100 and 200 blocks of North Main Street.
In Beloit, the farmers market runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays from May 17 to Oct. 25. On May 17, 24 and 31, the “presale market” is in the Third Street parking lot, off West Grand Avenue. The rest of the summer, the market is in the 300 block of State Street and the 400 of East Grand Avenue.
Eggs, cheese, beef, pork products, lamb, honey, flowers, homemade soap and baked goods are usually available throughout the year. The rest is seasonal. Early in May, bedding plants, some herbs and early vegetables such as rhubarb, asparagus, baby lettuce and spinach are sold.
Beloit’s market usually includes a morel mushroom vendor in the spring.
As the season goes by, the rest of the vegetable garden makes its appearance: carrots, green onions, beans, tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, melons, eggplant, turnips, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, winter squash, potatoes, onions, pumpkins and too many others to list.
Look for strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in the spring and apples in the fall.
Here’s a small sampling from the vegetable side: Ground cherries; celeriac; black radishes; goat cheese; duck, pullet and chicken eggs in a variety of colors; free-range chicken and Jersey beef; garlic scrapes; cipollini onions, and hot peppers.
Both markets have a wide selection of meats. The Beloit market has a seafood vendor and a trout and salmon vendor.
Both markets try to include locally made craft items but are careful not to let them dominate the market. The Janesville market’s policy is one-third crafts and two-thirds farm products, Thompson said.
Braatz estimated crafts are about 25 percent of the Beloit market.
Number of vendors
At the peak of the season, Janesville has between 50 and 60 vendors. Beloit’s market organizers don’t know how many vendors they’ll have until they arrive.
This year, the Janesville market hopes to celebrate the county’s agricultural heritage. However, the season will open with a “Renaissance” theme. Throughout the summer, musicians and other performers will add to the street scene.
Beloit’s Art Walk will run on Friday and Saturday, May 16 and 17. The walk features the chance to see 115 artists in 30 locations in downtown Beloit.
Live music is occasionally part of the market as well, and the Halloween party and parade at the end of October is “pretty magnificent,” Braatz said.
“We have hundreds of kids that show up,” she said.
Look for breakfast specials at the Looking Glass during the Janesville market. Or, get some coffee from a vendor. Local restaurants often sell breakfast items, such as omelets, containing veggies from that week’s market.
Even better, try to stump the Master Gardeners with your gardening questions.
In Beloit, nonprofit groups set up tables, and downtown restaurants open their doors for early morning snacks and lunches.
Plenty of parking is available at both markets. So are shopping carts, if you get carried away.
Dogs are not allowed at the Janesville market.
The Janesville market gets no money directly from the city.
“The city council and city staff have been very supportive,” Thompson said. “They’ve allowed the market to be held downtown, and they’ve waived the normal event fee. City support services such as the police and public works department and the city transit system have been extremely accommodating.”
The market gets donations from a variety of local businesses and individuals, and each vendor pays a small weekly or seasonal fee.
In Beloit, the market is supported by the Downtown Beloit Association and local business sponsors.
Here are five reasons to buy local:
1. It supports the local economy.
2. Fresh is always better. Would you rather have a green pepper that was picked this morning or one that was picked more than a week ago?
3. It helps save the environment. Industrial farming depends on herbicides, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to stay in business—it’s just a fact of life. Grocery store vegetables, meat and eggs come from family and factory farms across the country and around the world. It takes fuel to move all those products.
4. Know your farmer, know your food.
5. It brings variety to your table. Don’t settle for red radishes, orange carrots or ordinary onions. Expand you palate and fill your plate with sweet purple carrots, heirloom tomatoes or hot peppers you’d never find in the store.