Local Food Harvest Gaining Momentum
Local woman sets an example of what’s possible
It only takes a stroll through a Farm and Craft Market in Northeastern Wisconsin on a fall Saturday morning to see the depth and growth of the local food movement. Tables piled high with a tapestry of colorful vegetables, juicy apples, jars of amber maple syrup and golden honey, assortments of meats, fresh bakery, just-picked eggs, and all kinds of locally made cheeses — and an eager crowd filling baskets and bags for meal making at home.
The local food movement is in bloom. For example, in Sturgeon Bay two decades ago only a few vendors could be found at the market and other peninsula markets did not exist — neither did many of the farms and small businesses now producing local food. It has been a slow but steady building of momentum for local food consumption that has gained traction from the work of people who have been committed to promoting the message that local food is good food and good for the community, too.
“The movement is definitely not a flashin-the-pan kind of thing. It is going to stay around. It is a movement of people wanting to know where their food comes from and wanting to enjoy eating fresh, locally grown ingredients,” said Dean Volenberg, Door County UW-Extension Agricultural Educator.
Milestones of the movement can be seen throughout the community. High tunnels and greenhouses are seen on many more farms to extend the growing season; more growers are making value-added products like jams and baked goods from what they grow. The “seed-totable” trend is prevalent on the menus of a growing number of restaurants in Door County, and more people are growing their own food.
“There has been a huge increase in the number of people gardening and processing their own fruit and vegetables at home, seeds sales have boomed, and community gardens are being developed,” Volenberg said.
Another noticeable milestone is the increased number of weekly farm markets that spring up in summer and fall. “Farmers markets have grown tremendously,” Volenberg said. “The diversity of the vegetables is matched by the diversity of the population. It runs the gamut from early season leafy greens to summer squash, tomatoes and peppers … and more unusual vegetables from the Hmong growers from Green Bay.”
Steve and Char Sullivan, owners of Sully’s Produce, LLC at 7054 County Road C in Sturgeon Bay, have had a booth at the Sturgeon Bay Farm & Craft Market on Saturday mornings for over 30 years as well as their own onsite farmstand. They have seen the interest in local food grow first hand as they have been able to increase crop production, put an addition on their barn, add a new cooler and build an additional greenhouse this past year. They are also growing more diverse produce — kale, multicolored carrots, purple cauliflower, fresh cut basil, lettuces and even black tomatoes — which have been well received.
“The movement is helping people to understand the natural cycles of growing and what is in season,” Sullivan said.
“It is such a good thing that people realize … whether its cherries, apples, or my produce stand, there are some wonderful places to shop at.”
In Door County, five communities host weekly farm markets — Jacksonport, Sister Bay, Sturgeon Bay, Fish Creek and Baileys Harbor with many more spreading down the peninsula into Kewaunee County and the Green Bay area (see listing in this issue).
Sturgeon Bay’s market began in the early 1960’s and is one of the oldest in Wisconsin. At peak season, 75 vendors sprawl over the parking lot and lawn of City Hall.
Just down the road a bit, Kewaunee County has several young and informal community farm markets while Green Bay’s Saturday morning market began in 1917 and the Farmers’ Market on Broadway marks its tenth year with over 190 vendors. Held on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., it attracts over 5,000 people each week.
In addition to being a place where producers and farmers connect with customers to sell goods, the farm markets are a social event.
“Growers identified that what they enjoy most of what they do is building community and having a sense of connecting with people … Their motivation was social not financial,” Volenberg said.
Ann Hippensteel, a former Door County resident, took the Sustain Door 100- Mile Food Challenge from 2008 to 2009. She wholeheartedly jumped into the challenge and committed to one year of intentional, local eating through all four seasons — with only the two exceptions of salt and yeast.
“I decided to go ‘whole hog,’ so to speak,” said Hippensteel.
Her commitment meant she lived without what most people consider kitchen staples such as olive oil, peanut butter, rice, bananas, chocolate, coffee and tea. She put sweat equity in to store up for the winter, making homemade apple cider vinegar and pasta; lost a few pounds; and gained a wealth of knowledge about local food gaps.
“All of the things I learned I started translating into economic opportunities. Someone could start making vinegar in Door County, or pasta with the locally grown wheat … a grain mill and huller for oats is needed, as well as an oil press,” Hippensteel said.
Amidst the challenges and thoughts of economic opportunities, she also found several happy surprises.
“People knew I was doing this and they thought ahead for me and were able to grow and provide things that they thought I would need and want. It was a community building activity. The pleasant surprise is that if we are to be more resilient, it will be a happy thing as we will depend on our neighbors more and be sharing labor and happiness,” Hippensteel said.
A Community Supporting Agriculture
Sharing in the process of growing food is an approach accomplished by Community Supported Agriculture businesses or CSA’s. Several now exist on the Peninsula, such as Steep Creek Farm, LLC which opened in June 2009. Steep Creek Farm began small, testing the waters with just enough shares for 20 members. Now its membership has grown to 190 and 130 boxes of fresh produce are distributed each week with three fall storage shares available as well. To accommodate the growth in members, Steep Creek Farm moved to a larger operation this year at 6418 Vignes Road at the corner of County Road S in Sturgeon Bay and has seven acres of land in food production, several large hoop houses to extend the seasons, and a farm stand onsite.
“People really want to know where their food is coming from to feed their family and themselves,” said Meghan Goettelman, owner of Steep Creek Farm. “The whole idea of growing our own food sparked because we wanted to feed our own kids food that we can trust and it just spun off from that. We are growing food that we are confident to feed ourselves and the community. And we grow it in a way that is sustainable and good for the earth.” “Our community support has grown and strengthened intensely over the last five years,” Goettelman said. “We have grown some great relationships from the type of farming that we do and we love the community aspect we have with the CSA. The people are so important in the whole local food movement because if we don’t work together, it is not going to work.”
A Delicious Kingdom
An early effort to strengthen the relationships between food producers and the community in Door County was made through “Kingdom so Delicious,” a series of events where people could meet farmers and growers by touring farms, fields, and local food production facilities. The event’s name was inspired by 1600’s French explorer and fur trader Pierre-Esprit Radisson’s impression of the area as “a kingdom so delicious” and its use in a 1969 National Geographic article by William S. Ellis that put the national spotlight on Door County and its culinary appeal. “The whole locavore movement has moved seismically since 2008 when we were trying to do that. It has really enhanced the visitor experience and has tremendous benefits for the people that live here year round,” said Sally Everhardus, who had helped organize Kingdom So Delicious.
Now the promotion is focused at connecting visitors with all the tasty things that Door County has. “So Delicious, So Door County” and new resources have come forward to continue the momentum of connecting people with the local food network such as the Door County Buy Local, organized by the Door County Economic Development Corporation; the online UW Extension’s Producer’s Guide; and a Door County Orchards and Farmers Market map available on the Door County Visitors Bureau’s website.
Building a local food network has taken time and effort but it is only done one step at a time.
“You start with one brick and build a network of growth,” Volenberg said. “It may be seasonal but it is a step in the right direction.”