Thinking Green When All Is White: Wausau Winter Farmers Market Helps Keep Local Food on Plates Year-Round

Written by Chad Dally

Wausau Winter Market
The Wausau Winter Market draws hundreds of people to River Drive each week. The winter market runs through the last weekend in April, after which the vendors will head outside to begin the summer market the first weekend in May.

Until 2013 or so, supporters of local food (and the people who produce it) viewed the fall wistfully, as the trees’ changing colors signified an end to our growing season and the availability of fresh produce and other goods grown and harvested in and around Marathon County.

But then a plan came to fruition to provide space for local growers to sell their goods directly to consumers every Saturday (except for 1 week off at Christmas) over the long, cold winter months.

Enter the Wausau Winter Market

For the past 3 years, including this winter, farmers have set up tables at 212 River Drive in Wausau, a county-owned building that also houses several of its departments. The county doesn’t always involve itself in local business in such a direct way (by providing space for the market), but hosting the Wausau Winter Market makes sense for the county on several fronts, according to County Administrator Brad Karger. For one, providing access to fresh, healthy food supports the county’s goal of being the healthiest county in the state. Secondly, the partnership supports local producers and therefore our rural economy.

Jars of dill pickles line the table of Treasure Hill Family Farm in Edgar.

Craig Carlson, owner of Ninepatch farm near Athens, sells his meat and produce at one of the winter market’s 15 tables. He’s thankful to have a venue to sell goods throughout the winter because it helps farmers like him expand their business, but it also means little rest.

“It’s a lot of work to produce high-quality vegetables, but the farmers are willing to keep working hard in fall to have veggies available for winter market,” he said. “So, there’s no time off, and it’s pretty intense.”

Yet the hard work pays off — literally — because local consumers support the effort to maintain a winter market.

“There’s no purpose in doing it unless there’s someone to purchase it,” Carlson said. “The customers that are loyal, we couldn’t do anything without them; without them, it’s just a good idea.”

Carlson said he’s branched out into garlic and some greens due to customer demand and because, at least initially with the garlic, it wasn’t offered by many of the other farmers. But the winter market also has spurred its participants to set up hoop houses (“Like going to Tennessee without loading the truck,” said Carlson) to grow greens throughout the winter — meaning customers should be able to pick up fresh kale and spinach in March, rather than waiting for the summer market to start in May.

A crate of winter radishes set out by the folks from Red Door Family Farm in Athens.
A crate of winter radishes set out by the folks from Red Door Family Farm in Athens.

Availability of fresh local food aside, the winter market also has a social component not normally found at most grocery stores, Karger said, and that helps make the area more attractive. According to Karger:

It is a social experience, where people who are interested in healthy food gather and mingle, making this a community that people enjoy living in and more attractive to the young professionals our employers are trying hard to attract and retain.”

gift-basketYou can head down there on a Saturday morning for breakfast with friends. Or while you’re there crossing off your own shopping list, you can put together your own “Taste of Central Wisconsin” gift basket for an upcoming auction fundraiser or special occasion gift. Think: local maple syrup, honey, dried herbs, veggies, cider, locally roasted coffee, from-scratch bakery, and more!

If you’re interested in see more of the BEAUTIFUL BOUNTY of MARATHON COUNTY, you can view photos of the market on their Facebook page or head to the Wausau Winter Market on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.

You’ll be glad ya did.

Chad Dally - MCPL - Library SpecialistChad Dally

Library Specialist  |  Marathon County Public Library

Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction. He’s heard chickens are smart, but the small brood he keeps at home provides evidence to the contrary.  Email Chad Dally

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