Green Bay Farmers Market is a Century-Old Saturday Tradition
FIRST GREEN BAY DOWNTOWN MARKET IN SEPTEMBER COMES ONE DAY AFTER ITS 100TH BIRTHDAY
None of the farmers who came to Whitney Park on Green Bay’s east side knew they were participating in a historic event on Saturday, Sept. 1, 1917, and as they set up their wares, none likely speculated that local farmers would still be coming to downtown Green Bay every summer Saturday morning 100 years later.
The downtown Farmers Market, now located on several blocks of Washington Street just off the Fox River, still takes place from 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Originally a downtown staple during the late summer and fall harvest, the season now stretches all the way from Memorial Day weekend through October.
“We have vendors who have been coming for 40 years and more, part of the Farmers Market for generations,” said Jeanette Newhouse, vendor and entertainment coordinator for Downtown Green Bay Inc., which runs the weekly venue for the city. “They love having that direct contact with their families.”
More than 150 local food and craft vendors participate throughout the season with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, breads, prepared foods and more. The produce and products must come from within 75 miles of Green Bay to be sold at the market.
The crowds kept coming, and the market has outgrown at least four locations over a century. By the 1960s the market had moved to the corner of Adams and Cass streets, and later it spent many years in the Cherry Street parking lot along Monroe Street.
By 2013 the growing pains became acute again and the weekly festival moved to South Washington Street from Walnut to Stuart. It also utilizes portions of Doty, Stuart and a few stalls for prepared food vendors in the Washington Professional Building parking lot with a seating area.
“They were really tucked in tight before,” Newhouse said. “Washington Street allows us a better shopping experience.”
The market kept the same number of vendors, but the new location allowed them all to spread out. The aisle is much wider and the booths themselves went from 8 by 8 feet on Cherry Street to 10 by 10 now. “There’s room for scooters, wheelchairs, moms with strollers,” Newhouse said. “You can pull a wagon with kids in it if you’d like.”
It also has more of a family and entertainment factor now, as well. There’s enough space for a small music stage and an area for yoga. “We’re pleased it seems to be in a location that can continue to grow,” she said.
The vendors are happy, too.
“It’s great to connect with the local community and showcase what we grow on a seasonal basis,” said Luke Wojcik, owner of Twin Elm Gardens in Pulaski.
In addition to an eight-acre farm, Twin Elm Gardens grows vegetables indoors hydroponically year-round.
“We cater to local restaurants and some of the smaller grocery stores,” Wojcik said. “We also have a CSA program.”
Zeke Bratkowski of the Green Bay Packers was Lee Petrina’s hero when he was a boy, said Kathleen Petrina, Lee’s wife, in explaining why their 10-acre sweet cherry orchard in southern Door County is called Zeke’s Farm.
“He fi nally got to meet Zeke Bratkowski two years ago and the fi rst thing he said was, ‘Do you know you have a farm in Door County?’” Kathleen said.
The farmers market is “wonderful,” she said. “People really enjoy buying fresh produce, and they’re thrilled to learn that we have sweet cherries,” since Door is better known for its tart Montmorency cherries. People automatically believe Lee’s name is Zeke when they meet him at the farm, Kathleen said.
“When I’m talking to my husband, I call him Lee, and when I’m talking to the farmer, I call him Zeke,” she said.
Sweet Temptations by Michael started out as a hobby 17 years ago, but Michael Allen now has a repertoire of candies that includes 80 unique fl avors in truffl es, bonbons, pralines, caramels, fudge and much more.
It’s more than just a business for Allen, who lives and works in Green Bay. “I think of myself as an educator,” he said, and enjoys the opportunity to talk about the art of making candy. “I like to say I’m educating people one sweet bite at a time.”
He enjoys getting his sweet artistry in front of thousands of faces every Saturday morning during the summer and fall.
“This is my big event,” he said of the Farmers Market. “It gives me the opportunity to have a lot of customer contact.”