A Day at the Farmers Market
The Beloit Farmers Market runs every Saturday from 9:00 am to noon, May through October. This long standing open air market has been a part of downtown Beloit since 1974. On Saturday, I visited the market to see what it had to offer.
Walking into the market, the smooth jazz playing through speakers attached to the light poles that line the streets was quickly drowned out by the sounds of the busy market. People chattering about their purchases and their plans for the weekend intermingled with the music from the live band that was performing; their jangling tambourine and folk singing gave off a lively air.
“Hang on, I’m going to get some raspberries.”
“Have you decorated for fall yet?”
People walked past, cradling bouquets of flowers in their arms and carrying plastic bags with tomatoes and carrots and other produce. The market was colorful, bursting with different homegrown and handmade items. There were pumpkins and squash, marking the beginning of fall. There were dog leashes and rawhide bones, ribbons made into bows, crocheted Among Us characters, leather purses and wooden trellises and metal sculptures. French pastries and mushrooms, honey and doughnuts, spices and jars of pickled things lined the booths. There were food trucks with Chinese food, smoothies, and tacos. And there were flowers. Lots of flowers. One vendor had a dozen buckets of sunflowers, all of them bigger than my head.
As I walked around, I spoke with some of the vendors. Mary Hutchins, from Hutchins Family Farm, was selling cabbages and tomatoes from her garden, as well as herbs and succulents. She had been at the market for 17 years, and told me it is the second largest farmers market in Wisconsin. She also told me about the community of the market, saying the vendors are good and always look out for each other. This sense of community was important through the pandemic, where the market took a month off in May of 2020 to figure out how local farmers and producers could stay in business. I spoke with Shauna El-Amin, the executive director of Downtown Beloit Association, about the market and how they dealt with the pandemic. She told me they had to adjust some aspects, like introducing mask mandates and social distancing, as well as regulating how many customers were allowed into the market. Some vendors and local businesses also began doing online or over the phone ordering to limit contact. The market was able to stay open, and everyone was able to benefit from the fresh, local produce.
El-Amin also told me about the market’s SNAP program. Those with food stamp cards can go to the information booth set up in the middle of the market, and use it to get tokens to spend on fruits and vegetables, or anything else that can be bought at a grocery store. They accept cards from all over the country, so the market is accessible to everyone. The market is a draw for people from not only Beloit, but the surrounding area as well. I spoke to a woman from Rochelle, Illinois, who had traveled to the market for the “guy with the fish”. We were standing at St. Roger Abbey’s booth, a French gourmet patisserie that sells bread, macarons, croissants, and other French treats. She said she tells everyone about the market so that even people who live 30 or 45 minutes away hear of it.
The market certainly does have a draw. Downtown Beloit itself has a lot to offer, and the farmers market adds to its charm. It has thrift stores, coffee shops and restaurants. Bushel & Peck’s Local Market is exactly what the name is. A small market with jams and jellies, cheese, mustard, and other local goods. Nine Bells & Cat Tails has crystals and herbs to fit all your witchcraft needs. There are art galleries and art stores, like Beloit Pottery. They make oven and dishwasher safe pottery, and have a tent at the market as well as a storefront on Euclid. I spoke with Carmen Ball and Jay Goralski, the owners. They have been in the area for 15 years, and were very knowledgeable about the market and the town. I asked about the market during COVID. Goralski mentioned the mask mandates and social distancing, and he also told me the market lost some vendors along the way, for varying reasons. Some didn’t feel comfortable continuing with the market. For Beloit Pottery though, the market is doing great. Sales are up now that people are no longer in quarantine, and for Ball, making pottery isn’t a job. She is living the saying, “when you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.” Goralski and Ball also told me about how they used to share a studio with Beloit College, and they did an apprenticeship program with students. They spoke a lot about the relationship between the college and the town, and the impressions that they have of each other, and spoke about the two coming together a little bit more.
The farmers market is a bustling place with lots to consume, in all senses of the word. It’s a lot closer than Walmart, and when you shop locally by buying bread, cheese, or tomatoes from the market, you are putting your money back into the Beloit community. Take some time next Saturday morning to walk downtown and explore the community you live in.