Changes in Store for the Garden District Farmers Market

November 2, 2018

By Sheila Julson

Since 2011, the Garden District Farmers Market (GDFM) has been a weekly summer destination. Its convenient afternoon hours and the market’s array of produce, crafts, and preserves, embellished with live music, provided a laidback venue in a beautiful setting at South Sixth and East Norwich streets. 

The Garden District Farmers Market in Milwaukee’s Green Corridor includes community gardens, a flower-shaped solar array, rain gardens, beehive, Little Free Library, and a large brick-paved area for vendors and performers.                                       Photo Katherine Keller

Shakeups in market management this past season that led to a dearth of vendors, along with feedback from vendors, customers, and neighborhood residents, prompted the Garden District Neighborhood Association (GDNA), that operates the farmers market, to strive to improve and make changes. The most dramatic change would be moving the 2019 market to the Wilson Senior Center, 2601 W. Howard Ave., in nearby Wilson Park, said Connie Wilson, GDNA’s chair. 

The 2018 season’s challenges began with market manager Jenn Turner’s unexpected departure. Turner had served as market manager since 2015. “We didn’t have enough time to recoup, pick this thing up, and get it running because her departure was so late,” Wilson said. “Normally for a farmers market, you need to start planning in October or November for the following season, but we didn’t learn until January that she (Turner) was stepping down.” 

It is the market manager’s role to book vendors and entertainment, although other members of the Garden District Neighborhood Association are free to make suggestions or help. 

When Turner left, Wilson said she was ready to step into the manager’s role, but GDNA board member Ben Rucka offered to assist with management duties and was given the role. “But we started getting a lot of feedback from vendors and customers that things just weren’t as great as we thought they would be,” Wilson said. Rucka, a retired businessman, made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke in 2017. 

By the end of the 2018 season, there were only three vendors, and at the market’s season-end harvest festival, only two of those showed up. Wilson said about 125 customers turned out for the event and the vendors sold everything they brought to market that day. 

 A prevailing complaint by vendors about the Garden District location, in the shadow of the Town of Lake Water Tower, is the prohibition of vehicular access to the area where the market tents are set up. Vendors are not permitted to drive on the decorative brick pavers where the market is held, making booth set-up arduous and more time-consuming. 

GDNA board members also heard comments from area residents about parking and congestion. While there is a parking lot adjacent to the market, many customers park on the surrounding streets. 

“Our biggest goal for the next season is to make it easier for the vendors to just open their vehicle doors and move their things out,” Wilson said. 

“Because our space in the Green Corridor is so beautiful and meant to be used for events, we were hesitant to start looking (elsewhere), but we considered that Wilson Park might be an option,” Wilson said. “So, we had meetings with the Senior Center and they ended up really liking the idea. We posed questions to area neighbors, and everyone was open to the idea.” 

The move from Sixth and Norwich was originally planned for the 2018 season. Wilson said arrangements were made and everything was in place to relocate the market, but Rucka decided to keep it at Sixth and Norwich. 

The Wilson Senior Center, which is closed on weekends, has a large parking area that vendors could use and surrounding grassy areas with picnic tables and plenty of room for people to walk. “Moving the market would help give exposure to Wilson Park, and we could still utilize our ‘home area’ in the Green Corridor. We would continue offering storytime in the garden, National Night Out with the Milwaukee Police Department, Fall Fest, and maybe a night market. So, we have things in the works,” Wilson said. “We don’t want the farmers market to just go away because there’s nothing like it in our immediate area. We thought it was well worth trying to save.” 

Morgan Morgan, lead manager of Wilson Park Senior Center, said she and her colleagues are on board with the idea. “We are very excited about it,” she said. “We hope to do some outreach at the event to build awareness of what the Senior Center offers.” 

Wilson currently serves as GDNA’s chair, and as such, is overseeing efforts to revive the market. If moved to Wilson Park, GDNA wants to retain the same vendors they have been working with but also rebuild the number of vendors to that when the market was more robust in previous years. It also would like to continue offering live music — a staple at the GDFM. Market hours would be similar, every Saturday from 1 to 4pm, June through October. 

Wilson said her goal is to have 40 vendors in 2019. She said when the market launched in 2011, there were 30 vendors. 

“If we get the Wilson Park area up and running on Saturdays, we would also look at having a market during the week at the 6th and Norwich location. Lots of planning going on over the next couple of weeks. Also, all of the usual GDNA events that are held over the course of the year will continue to be held at the 6th and Norwich location,” Wilson said. 

Farmers and artisans who would like more information about the 2019 season should contact the Garden District Farmers Market: 414-379-2450. 


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