By Mary Boyle
Once upon a time, most of the fresh food available for purchase at the grocery store or market was produced locally; the systems simply did not exist to transport fresh food economically, so fresh produce was mainly limited to what could be grown nearby. In Wisconsin, with our long, cold winters, this meant that farmers had to know how to extend the growing season, as well as how to store produce properly so that it could be utilized until spring finally arrived. What couldn’t survive fresh was preserved in a variety of ways, either by individuals, the farmers or, as time went on, companies that specialized in canning food. This was why, when my mother was a child in the 1950’s, getting an orange in the toe of your stocking on St. Nick’s at the beginning of a Wisconsin winter was a treasured treat. Were we able to beam ourselves back fifty years to a local grocery store, most of us would be shocked at how little choices were available for fresh produce, especially in the dead of winter.
The availability of cheap oil gradually changed our local food systems into a global one. More vehicles needed good roads, which went on to replace the trains that were once the only way for food to travel long distances (and only food that could survive the trip). Eventually, even airplanes became an economical option and, with speed like that, we can now find fresh raspberries and tomatoes grown in Mexico or South America in vast produce aisles in the middle of February in Wisconsin. The convenience and availability are so commonplace, we are no longer aware of what a luxury it is…or what the real costs are, not just in the quality of the food, which is often picked long before ripeness, so it travels well (or is even bred to be sturdier for travel), nor in the environmental cost caused by more vehicles on the roads and planes in the air burning more fossil fuels, but also in the gradual loss of local food systems.
The need for redeveloping a year-round market for local food has become more obvious as we witness the disruption in the supply chain caused by the pandemic: the farther our food and other products must travel, the more likely it is that the supply will be disrupted; a community that solely relies on food produced outside its borders will not fare well should those outside systems be disturbed, be it from a pandemic, natural disaster or some other event we haven’t happened upon, yet. Furthermore, we have already seen how the price of oil affects the cost of goods that must travel long distances to reach us; this isn’t really an issue when the product isn’t something we actually require, such as the latest smart phone or a particular brand of shoes, but it is not impossible to imagine a time when food that must be transported could become too costly for a part of the population.
Ozaukee and the surrounding area is blessed to have a number of long-running and popular outdoor Farmers Markets between June and October, offering the opportunity to purchase food and other goods straight from the producer, which benefits the consumer because they’re able to know exactly where and how the food is produced, and benefits the producer because it allows them to get more profit for their goods than they can by selling it wholesale to grocery stores, restaurants or other wholesale buyers outside of the community the food is grown in. The end of October has, in the past, meant the end of the local food season; but now, as demand for local food grows, indoor Farmers Market opportunities have also grown which, in turn, encourages producers to use methods to extend their season and goods, such as using cold frames and hoop houses, or preserving their harvest by freezing, canning, or dehydrating.
For several years, PortFish, Ltd., a local aquaponics outfit in Port Washington, ran the indoor Port Washington Winter Market out of the local Congregational Church, which was then taken over by Jennifer Sapiro and went on to be sponsored by Port Washington Main Street in 2018. During the 2017/18 season, they began to alternate the market between the American Legion/Inventors Brewpub and the church and quickly learned that the new venue was a huge hit; the Winter Market has been happening there ever since, though it has been outdoors when possible, or order online and purchase pickup when it wasn’t, over the pandemic. Finally, the Winter Market will return in person on Saturday, November 6th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and continue for two Saturdays every month through March.
The Winter Market is no longer the only local food game in Port, however; the DreamPort Harvest Market, a new venture by Dream Apple Farm (read the story here), will be open every Saturday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. through December 18th, then they plan to open as a retail store in April, giving even more opportunities to purchase local food throughout the entire season.
There are also several options for buying direct from the farmer on the farm in Ozaukee County. In Cedarburg, Witte’s Vegetable Farm Store will remain open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday until the Saturday before Thanksgiving, while Appleland Farm Market in Fredonia will be open daily through November and Friday through Sunday for the first two weekends of December. Barthel’s Fruit Farm in Mequon will be open daily from 9-5 through Thanksgiving, with their bakery open Friday through Sunday and November 24th (you can order your pies for Thanksgiving directly from them!).
Another local food option that became available thanks to the pandemic is the Ozaukee Area REKO Ring. Founded by Venessa Quiñones in April of 2020, the REKO Ring allows local food producers to put their offerings into Facebook posts on the group's site where members can then place their orders. Pick ups are on Thursdays from 6-7 p.m. in Grafton in the former Shopko parking lot and the final pick up for the year is December 16th.
Now is also a great time to consider buying a CSA share (or, consider giving one as a gift for Christmas!). CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is when a person buys a share of the harvest before it is grown or produced so that the farmer has the funds upfront to begin planting, as well as a guaranteed customer. Appleland Farm Market and Willoway Farm (which also offers a fresh flower CSA) in Fredonia, Winterspring Farm (formerly Wellspring) in Newburg and Rare Earth Farm in Belgium are all excellent places to support.
Convenience and availability are hard to ignore, of course, so we are extremely lucky to have two dedicated, year-round grocery stores that are committed to local food in Oz, which is the next best thing to buying direct from the farmer: the cooperative Outpost Natural Foods in Mequon and Slow Pokes Local Foods in Grafton. Kathleen McGlone, who opened Slow Pokes in 2006, has been dedicated to not only supporting local food systems, but to helping people with food intolerances, particularly gluten sensitivities. After 15 years in business, Kathleen is looking for the right person to take over her venture; if you’re interested in being Ozaukee’s next local food champion, get in touch with Kathleen.
Ozaukee Living Local was born out of the local food movement in Ozaukee County to promote local growers and to connect the community with them; we continue to take this part of our mission very seriously. Did we miss someone? Let us know! Most importantly, please commit to buying as much local food as possible, as well as buying other products that are locally made. The money you spend on local food and goods stays local and contributes to the building and strengthening of our local economy – a process called relocalization – which makes our community more resilient, more connected, and less susceptible to the highs and lows of the global market. This is a mission we can all get behind.