Eagle River is on the front end of a trend that’s becoming more popular across Wisconsin: winter farmers markets. The new effort could make local food available all year round, even in a cold Northwoods climate.
When Al Pittelko, executive director of the Eagle River Revitalization Program, was approached about holding a winter farmers’ market, he hesitated.
“I said how can we when we don’t have any farmers’ stuff," he said, "but they do.”
“There’s jams and jelly people," says vendor Kathy Martin of Hillbilly Hollow farm in Conover. "We have some beef coming in from the Rhinelander area. I have goat cheeses and artisanal bread. and I also do have fresh chickens and goat meat. So that’s a nice selection of meat products. we have hopefully some barbeque sauces and some relish people coming in.”
Martin was the vendor who pushed for a winter farmers’ market, which began earlier this month. “Actually we wanted to start this in November," she said, "but we were having a problem finding a venue. But Al came through with this and it’s been working really well.”
Pittelko explained, “I’m the commander of the VFW, so we had an inside track when it came to location. And they were very interested in helping us out.”
Tonya Hofricheter drove from Deerbrook to sell her products. “An hour and 20 minutes," she said. "So today with the roads being the way they are it was a little bit of a trip. I have some different jams and jellies. I have honey, maple syrup, salsa, some potatoes and some onions. I think the winter market is a very good idea. It gives people the opportunity to get things they wouldn’t normally get."
Last Wednesday Kathy and Tonya were the only vendors. The week before, they had six. Business has started off slowly, but the customers who come in are happy to be here.
Margie Rychlock described, “It’s a cold day outside and it’s a great way to get out of the cold and into something a little more summery-the summery feel.”
As Sally Haggin explained, “I used to have a stand there at the farmers market, so I just stopped in to see how these ladies are doing.”
"It’s local," said Laurel Anderson. "Support your local people. Come here first, then go to the grocery store.
The winter farmers’ market is a small venture for now, but the idea may soon be spreading. Tonya Hofrichter is interested in starting one in Antigo.
"I think it’ll get bigger from here," she said.
The winter market runs every Wednesday through April from noon until 6 pm. The outdoor farmers market starts in May.