For farmer’s market aficionados who live in Southeastern Wisconsin, the Fondy Farmer’s Market is a well known venue. The oldest producer-only market in the area, it recently hit its 97th birthday, marking nearly a century of serving the Milwaukee community. More importantly, it addresses one of today’s real issues–how to make good food available to all.
Many people would prefer to eat fresh, local, sustainably grown food, but what if fast food is more available and affordable? Inner city farmers markets have the potential to change this equation.
The Fondy Market has been around for decades, but a new component was added in 2011– Fondy Farm. While the problem of good food availability, accessibility and affordability is well known, food producers face their own special challenges. Fondy Farm, 40 acres of prime farmland just north of Milwaukee, was designed to address these. Last weekend I had the opportunity to tour the farm in an excursion set up by MKEFoodies.
We began our tour on a tractor, driven by Farm Manager Steve Petro (after some good local beer–this is Wisconin after all).
During the tour, Fondy Food Center Executive Director Young Kim reflected back on his earlier years with the Fondy Market, when he noticed some troubling trends.
The first concern was a significant drop in the number of producers in the years between 2006 and 2009–difficult economic times for the community to lose part of its food supply. When he looked into causes, one thing in particular–land and resource availability–stood out. Many producers farmed leased land which might change annually and be agreed to with a handshake. He cited a case where the landowner decided to do something different, and the farmer found out in the spring that the land was no longer available.
The second issue was the limited variety of produce–specifically an almost complete absence of perennial crops like asparagus or berries. The issues were related. If a farmer was working on leased land with a one year contract or agreement, it wouldn’t make sense to start crops that need over a year to produce.
Fondy Farm was established to help address these issues. With a long term lease on 40 acres of farmland north of Milwaukee, they provide sub-lets to farmers along with irrigation, tractors and consulting. The only the stipulations are that they grow sustainably and sell their wares at the Fondy Market. Currently the farm hosts upwards of a dozen farmers. At about 95% capacity, it is an obvious success.
Every year Fondy Farm adds capabilities–more mechanization options, better irrigation, etc. During the tour, ideas for additional farm upgrades came up. Discussion of possible overnight housing, transportation and refrigeration made it clear that the team will continue to innovate.
Milwaukee will clearly be better for it.
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Here is some more of the farm …