The bright colors of fresh produce, the scent of roasted corn and barbeque, and the sounds of live music filled the air as the Fondy Farmers Market celebrated its opening day.
The oldest and largest producers-only market in Milwaukee, it covers 38,000 square feet at the corner of 22nd and Fond du Lac Avenue. Although the market’s roots date back to 1917, Fondy Food Center has run it since 2000.
Customers credit the market’s success to its location and the variety of products it offers, including sweet potato greens, a staple of African cuisine.
Young Kim, executive director of Fondy Food Center, insists on using local producers for fresh fruits and vegetables. “If we see a red tomato in May, we will go and visit that farm and make sure there are red tomatoes,” Kim said. “We do visit and inspect.”
The market grossed about $960,000 in vegetable sales in 2012, Kim said, and was one of the first in the Midwest to accept FoodShare, in 2004.
“It’s more than just food,” Kim said. “It’s also a place for people to run into friends and neighbors. It’s a place to bring your whole family and hang out here.”
Laura Moore of Milwaukee visits every year and said she appreciates the fresh variety of produce the market offers.
“It’s enjoyable and good to get out on a Saturday morning,” Moore said. “My favorites are the greens, tomatoes and eggplant.”
With about 30 vendors this season, the market is more than fresh fruits and veggies.
Roland Lee drove more than 10 hours from Memphis, Tenn., to bring his handcrafted arts, crafts and birdhouses to the market.
“When I was a little boy, my dad gave me a BB gun, and like a lot of young boys, I would shoot at the birds,” Lee recalled. “But when I became an adult, I thought to myself, ‘that was so cruel’, so I became obsessed with building birdhouses and giving them a safe place to live.”
This is his first year at the market, but Lee isn’t a stranger to the Fondy area.
“I lived right on 22nd street, around the corner from here, and I cut meat at Kohl’s before it became Lena’s,” Lee said. “I like Milwaukee, and every time I come back, I try to being something positive with me.”
Hazel L. Johnson of Milwaukee is serving her homemade cheesecakes at the market for the second year.
Set up at the entrance, Hazel Lee Cheese Cake’s booth catches the eye with cheesecake topped with fresh fruit and fresh-baked cheesecake brownies and cupcakes. “When you bite into cheesecake, it does something wonderful to your taste buds,” Johnson said. “I have cheesecake smoothies, ice cream, whatever you want in cheese cake, I have it.”
The 6th Annual Barbeque Cook-off included 10 pit masters, one from as far away as Indiana, competing to see who had the best finger-licking chicken and ribs.
Judged in two categories by seven judges, including Walnut Way Conservation Corp. co-founder Larry Adams, the first-prize winner in each category took home $400; second prize was $200. Entries were judged on appearance, texture and taste.
The Fondy Farmers Market is open four days a week now through Nov. 2: Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.