South Shore Farmers Market Celebrates 20 Years

July 2, 2018

By Sheila Julson

 

Members of the South Shore Farmers Market managing committee and support staff: Back, from left: Chad VanDierendonck, Mark Budnik, Jim Griffith, Tom Issetts, Kurt Mihelich, Stephanie Harling. Front: Ann Hippensteel, Angie Tornes, Mary Beth Driscoll, Brigid Globensky, Amy Mihelich, Sue Boyle. Not present: Kathy and Frank Mulvey. —Jennifer Kresse

The South Shore Farmers Market (SSFM) readily established itself as a neighborhood tradition when it was launched in 1998. A mecca of sights, sounds, tantalizing scents, people, and dogs, the market has frequently won or placed high in reader’s polls and received props in local food-related news articles.

Marking its 20th anniversary this year, this community mainstay serves as a springboard for local farmers and artisan food entrepreneurs and a showcase for musicians.

SSFM will celebrate its 20th anniversary July 14 with Big Brass Band, a New Orleans-style band that will perform from 10 to 11:30am. A big carrot sheet cake will also be served, said Angie Tornes, one of SSFM’s founders.

Stephanie Harling, SSFM committee member and former market manager, remembers the early years. “What the community probably didn’t know was that the inception of the market was filled with uncertainty about whether this would work in Bay View or not,” she reflected. “Our committee of about five or six residents anxiously waited at 7am in the park, just hopeful that the small amount of vendors that agreed to take this journey with us would actually show up.”

Wild Flour Bakery, owned by Dolly and Greg Mertens, has been a staple at the South Shore Farmers Market since its inception and was one of only six vendors at the first market, July 24, 1999. —Katherine Keller

The vendors kept their word and the market’s first day attracted about 200 shoppers. “We felt like that was a successful start. Little did we know it would grow to be one of the best markets in the city,” she said.

The uncertainty that clouded that first year wasn’t the only obstacle faced by the SSFM committee—they also had a very low budget. “We found ourselves rigging up a makeshift shelter on the rainy days,” Harling said. “We would have to string a tarp from tree to tree for the managers to use as shelter during inclement weather.”

Harling expressed optimism that the SSFM will continue to be a summertime community cornerstone. “It’s been amazing to be at the market every Saturday and see the families that come to the market grow each year, to see the babies from the early years grow up to be young adults as they hit all the expected milestones that life has to offer,” she said. “Hopefully they will carry fond memories of Saturday mornings in the park. I’m looking forward to the day when some of them take the torch from us and can experience what it is to create something that fosters community.”

Tornes recalled not only the apprehension of the market’s first day, but also the weather. “It was cold and wet and it rained that day and everyone had flimsy tents, and there were these big billowed pockets of water collecting on top of the tents. We had to push those off occasionally,” she said. 

Tornes has seen a generation of families grow, those of the shoppers and vendors. The Herren family, sweet corn, tomatoes, and melon growers, has been with SSFM since the beginning. “Mark Herren was only 13 when they started. Dolly Mertens, owner of Wild Flour Bakery, often looked out for him, when the rest of his family was at another market. “Mark has now turned into a robust young man and assists his dad,” she said.

Despite the founders’ initial uncertainty, the market grew year after year.

“We always keep count of the people attending, and at one point it just started
to explode,” Tornes said. “Previously, everyone recognized each other but at some point between the 10th and 15th year, we realized that something was going on. There was a huge influx of people coming in, and we didn’t recognize everyone right off the bat. We began informally asking people where they were coming in from, and we heard answers like Racine.”

The SSFM committee has since helped others communities form farmers markets, including Fox Point and Wauwatosa. “The community aspect of our farmers market is like a street festival every week,” Tornes said. She credited Sue Boyle, Stephanie Harling, Kathy Mulvey, Mary Beth Driscoll, Brigid Globensky, Michael O’Toole, Kurt Mihelich, treasurer Amy Mihelich, and the market managers for the SSFM’s success.

Bert Kelley and his wife Kellie Krawczyk have lived in Bay View for 20 years and shopped at the market since its beginnings.

Kelley fondly recalled the market’s early days. “It was small and lightly attended, and it was like our own little club,” he said, “and it took off so quickly!” He said it has grown into a great asset for the community.

His neighbor, Paula Kosinski, has also lived in Bay View with her husband Paul since the late 1990s and occasionally attended the market over the years. “It has changed dramatically since the beginning, but it’s cool to see some of the same vendors still there after all this time.” She grew up on a dairy farm in Montford, Wis., near the state’s Driftless Area, and enjoys connecting with farmers at the market. “It’s fun to walk around and talk with the diverse farmers selling meat and produce,” she said.

Chuck Doughty has lived in Bay View since 2006. He and his wife Jessica have attended to the SSFM almost every Saturday morning over the past 12 years. “It used to be just a few booths, but it has since expanded all the way across the park and has become a social gathering spot,” he said. “There’s a lot of prepared foods, and we’ll bring the kids and get a croissant, or something, and watch music. There’s entertainment, and we’re seeing everything from bluegrass to rock and roll to folk music and belly dancing. We meet family and friends there every Saturday morning.”

Doughty, a realtor, touts the SSFM as a great example of how wonderful Bay View is, to people thinking of moving here. “The market is a fabulous place to grab some groceries and meet your neighbors, their kids, and their dogs,” he said.

Jeanine Becker, owner of Madam J’s Sticky Fingers Jams and Jellies, is one of the original SSFM vendors. She fondly recalled the first season. “That’s when we were just putting up a table and seeing if we could get some people to come. There was no charge for a space, no formal structure to the market,” she said.

There are far more dogs than vendors at the South Shore Farmers Market held each summer from mid-June to mid-October in South Shore Park. Jen Leonard and Chewy, her 10-week-old Golden Doodle, came from Franklin, Wis., to visit the market. —Katherine Keller

As the market has grown, so has the market’s community. “One of the best parts for me is to see the same people year after year,” Becker said, “watching their kids grow up, young couples having their first child, and new dogs added to the family. The folks who come to the market become family.” 

Becker also believes the market’s growth and longevity reflect how people are more conscious of our food supply. She has observed that customers’ knowledge about what they want to eat, where they buy it, and what to feed their family has grown. “They are truly interested in where food comes from, and how it is handled and processed. They like to know the person that produces the product.”

When the market debuted, Mark Budnik, Angie Tornes’ spouse, was only marginally involved. “There wasn’t much thought about entertainment,” he recalled. “In 2002, the market only ran 12 weeks, first starting July 20th! Several committee members put together an entertainment and educational program. In 2003, the market purchased its own sound system and I got involved. As a former musician, I had some expertise, and I offered to assist the musicians with their set-up and sound.”  

He said the market expanded to 17 weeks in 2005. In 2007 Budnik became the entertainment coordinator, which included booking performers, maintaining and upgrading the sound system, managing promotion, setting up the performing area, and mixing the sound.

SSFM usually features a single performer or group. 

For a number of years he booked the same performers but broadened the selection beginning in 2009, while retaining John Stano and David HB Drake (“both Bay View guys”) in the annual lineup. He feels it’s beneficial to have new performers and a wide range of musical styles, with a few exceptions. He said the market isn’t an appropriate venue for rock bands, and out under the trees, they don’t have an adequate source of electrical power. 

“We run all the shows with 12-volt batteries and a power inverter. We sometimes stop the show, hopefully between songs, for about a minute, to switch batteries. It’s always amusing to the musicians and crowd.” Budnik said long-time Bay Viewer Jim Griffith, a master recording and sound engineer, as been real asset.

Griffith, who operated New Horizons sound studio in Milwaukee, is responsible for improving the sound quality with his expertise ranging from staging the microphones to mixing sound. “That makes everyone’s experience better, the musicians’ and the audience’s,” Budnik said. “He has added to the quality of the music.”

Griffith recorded the music and mixed sound for the SSFM music CD that was published in 2013.

Musician Paul Cebar performed at the June 23 South Shore Farmers market, while his father Anthony Cebar, 95, danced with Jonnie Guernsey. —Photo Katherine Keller

“I take pride in the fact that many market performers contact me year after year wanting to return,” Budnik said. “As the market crowds have steadily grown over the years, so have the regulars who come to shop, picnic, and be entertained. Some say the music is a big part of the South Shore Farmers Market, and of their summer Saturday mornings. My only goal is to present the best quality music I can with what I have. Walking among a smiling crowd on Saturday morning is the reward for me.”  

Husband and wife John Stano and Mary Cebar-Stano. Musician Stano will make his 13th appearance at the South Shore Farmers Market this summer. Cebar-Stano, a retired elementary teacher, is Paul Cebar’s sister. —Katherine Keller

Singer and songwriter John Stano has many market memories, as both a shopper and long-time performer at the SSFM. “The first South Shore Farmers Market, our son, Tony, was stroller-bound and was captivated by the market sights, sounds, and flavors. Not long after, he was enjoying spending his own money to buy small amounts of random vegetables. Sometimes he’d get paid in produce for running errands for the vendors like Dolly, Leroy, or the ‘Potato Lady,’” he said. “Then it was time for [our] Iron-Chef-home-version to figure out how to use garlic scapes, bitter melon, seven potatoes, or whatever. Tony made good friends, learned a lot about handling money, produce, and cooking, thanks to the market.” 

Stano noted that his scheduled market performance on Oct. 6 would be his “lucky 13.” He has performed more than any other musician to date. “I am surprised and honored. Playing for my family, friends, neighbors, and their dancing children at the South Shore Farmers Market has always been a memorable highlight of my summer.” Beatles tunes, he said, are what really get the little ones dancing.

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