Baraboo’s farmers market still going strong, despite soggy weather

September 27, 2018

Twice-weekly farmers markets continue to draw consumers to downtown Baraboo, despite a rainy summer that stifled crop production.

The farmers market has survived three decades, with local growers lining up on Oak Street on Wednesday and Saturday mornings April through October. Organizer Fred Moh said this has been a challenging year, as heavy rains washed out some crops.

“Every time that happens, they lose two weeks,” he said. “This is probably the worst weather year I’ve had since I’ve been involved with the market.”

He helped establish the market in the late 1980s, selling bedding plants. It became an official institution in 1991, when then-Mayor Dennis Thurow — now a city alderman — helped usher in an ordinance authorizing produce sales on the street.

“In those days, it was kind of a free-for-all,” Moh said.

In 2002, Moh was tapped to organize the market, line up vendors, assign them spaces on Oak and make sure their inventory is homegrown.

“They have to produce what they sell,” the retired commercial painter and artist said. “I basically started running it like an art show.”

Eight to 10 vendors come each Wednesday, a number that nearly doubles on Saturdays, selling everything from honey to horseradish. At first, downtown merchants complained about the market eating up precious parking spots, but in time they came to appreciate its drawing power.

Many regular customers arrive when the market opens at 7:30 a.m. Commerce then slows until most downtown shops open between 9 and 10.

“I hear nothing but enthusiasm from downtown shop owners, who appreciate that the farmers market has helped make Wednesday and Saturday mornings a great time to shop downtown,” said Downtown Baraboo Inc. President Deirdre Marshall.

Drawing from a roster of 30 vendors, Moh works to ensure various items are available, ranging from beets to smoked ham to bedding plants.

“I think it’s good to be exposed to people who actually grow things and can explain it,” he said. “And (tell you) how to cook it.”

Longtime vendor Kathryn Preuss of Woodland Valley Farms in La Valle she said enjoys getting to know her regulars.

“We become family with the customers,” she said.

Woodland Valley sells chrysanthemums, as well as produce such as pumpkins and squash. Down the block, Junior Gurgel sells beans and tomatoes grown at his Rock Springs farm. “I like the people contact, one-to-one,” Gurgel said.

The market opens in April as soon as asparagus is ready. It closes Oct. 31 with pumpkins and squash. Vendors pay $75 for the season or $4 a day to cover administrative costs.

Moh has strived to create a friendly atmosphere among vendors, in hopes that will spread to customers.

“Harmony to me is everything,” he said. “It’s sort of a symbiotic relationship.”

The market has survived three decades despite occasional hard times. Its challenges aren’t limited to weather. Moh has seen the vendor population age, as some farmers’ children aren’t following them into the family business.

“I hope next year the weather’s better,” Moh said, “and we get some younger people in here.”

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