Exploring Downtown and the Fond du Lac Farmers Market
August is a captivating time of year in Wisconsin. I’m a huge fan of the extreme heat and humidity that earns this month steamy reputation, I can’t deny that I enjoy the warm winds and sunny afternoons of late summer. I grew up in the green, hazy cradle of southeastern Wisconsin’s countryside. Being outside is second nature to me. I feel thankful to have a spacious backyard for the little one and the dog to scamper around. Aside from the odd car horn or police siren, you can sit outside at dusk, close your eyes and never know you were just a block off one of the busiest avenues in Fond du Lac. But, when you open your eyes, you can’t escape the fact that living in a city is different than living on a farm. My husband, a city slicker his whole life, is content to read on the porch rocking chairs or spend the less temperate days inside doing the same. I’m too restless to do that for long. On quiet evenings, when everyone returns home from work and daycare, we stroll around the cozy city blocks between Johnson and Scott. And every Saturday, rain or shine, I pop the kid in the stroller and set off for the Farmers Market.
I had heard about the market before, but hadn’t actually thought about going until my best friend mentioned all her great finds the season before. I was intrigued. Recently committed to living a healthier lifestyle, and dragging the family along with me, I saw it as an opportunity to really get back to the basics. I imagined dusty, dirt-covered carrots in baskets, plucked from the field only the day before. Visions of leafy greens packed in bunches, surrounded by vivid peppers and lush herbs, danced in my head. I quickly fell in love with the idea of gathering up my tote bags in the morning and setting off to cultivate a week’s’ worth of veggies to store in our small kitchen, without the work and frustration that comes with trying to birth a garden in a back corner.
The thing is, there’s more to the Farmers Market than just vegetables. In fact, the Farmers Market is more than just a shopping trip. You can get in your car, drive to a grocery store and pick through produce anytime. What I love about heading downtown every weekend is the experience of it. That’s what I discovered on our first trip. The three of us headed out with my friend and her husband on a sweltering Saturday morning. The thermometer had cracked 80 degrees before 8 o’clock. The humidity was oppressive; my husband remarked it felt like he was swimming instead of walking. But we loaded up the stroller either way, my daughter barefoot and tucked in with a cool thermos of water, our totes stowed safely in the small basket below her seat and looking forward to getting out of the hot box we called a house. That beautiful summer breeze had seemingly taken the morning off. We sweated something fierce block by block until we’d arrived at Forest Avenue and the start of the four block stretch that encompasses the market.
What struck me first was not the rows of vendors with tables heaped with the most amazing produce I’d ever seen in my life. It was the sheer scope of activity filling the streets. Annie’s Fountain City Cafe was set up outside with everything I could ever want on a Saturday morning. I’m a sucker for iced coffee and on-the-go pastries, what can I say? Beside them, two young men sang and strummed on guitars. A woman was displaying and selling her crocheted goods, so intricately crafted I couldn’t help but stop and investigate. How anyone could use that beautiful piece of art as a pot scrubber, I couldn’t imagine. Further down, a local rescue operation was wheeling a cart of dogs available for adoption. Then we were passing vendors selling bouquets, beef, eggs, honey, baked goods, veggie noodles, herbs, flowers, berries and more. And it was all local! Many vendors proudly displayed the location their goods were grown and gladly asked any questions about their operations. We walked the entire length of the market, arriving at the end only to wonder why we had never come down before. Since this first visit, I’ve learned a trick or two to getting the most out of my morning at the market:
The Early Bird Isn’t The Only One to Get the Worm
You don’t have to be the first one to step foot into the market, which I like. Some days, we’re up early, thanks to our little human alarm clock in the next room. Some days, she takes pity on her parents and we all wake up groggy and in disbelief at the time. Whenever we end up going, we know that we have until noon to walk down and enjoy the morning. On those blissful days, few and far between I’ll admit, I’ve still found great items and deals. Concerns of missing out have never crossed my mind. If you’re not a morning person, don’t let that stop you!
There’s Always Something for Everyone
Every week is something different. I follow the Farmers Market on Facebook, as well as some of the vendors I frequently purchase from, and always check out what’s on the schedule so I can plan to be there at a specific time if need be. One of the great things about our Farmers Market is the wide variety of music, activities and participants that join in. You might see a local business one weekend, view a cooking demo another. My personal favorite is the petting zoo that happens every year, typically in June. My inner kid revels in seeing and petting all the animals in the pens and sharing that experience with the little one. There’s so many events in any given season that you might find it hard to pick and choose! The market hours make it easy not to have to; you and your family can still enjoy the morning market and have time in the afternoon for whatever else you may have planned.
Change with The Seasons
The events aren’t the only thing that changes. Wisconsinites like to joke that there’s really only two seasons here, but that generality misses the nuances of our changing seasons and the produce that thrives and grows during this time. The Saturday market runs from May to October. That leaves plenty of time for veggies to grow into peak season. I love that this makes shaking up my meal plans easier. I might have an idea of what I’m looking for that particular week, but if I find something else that I didn’t know was in peak season, then I’ve found something fresh and new to cook up for the crew. It’s easy to fall into a rut when it comes to cooking. You come home from work, drained and tired, the thought of slaving over a stove not very high on your list of things to do. It’s understandable that we fall back on tried-and-true classics. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made spaghetti and meatballs, sat down to eat and thought, ‘Well, that was easy, but I’m not really hungry for it.’ Picking around the market has expanded my culinary horizons and made me excited about meal time again. Which, in turn, makes everyone excited about meal time. Since making the market a part of our weekly routine, we definitely eat better than we ever have before. At the end of this post, I’ve shared my recipe for delicious mashed cauliflower. Give it a try instead of potatoes one night; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
It All Makes Cents
Abandon your money concerns, all ye who enter the market! If you think you can’t afford to walk around these vendor booths, think again. I still go shopping on Sundays and trust me, I’ve compared the quality and cost. I am consistently surprised at the difference between items I’ve purchased at the market compared to products in-store. Produce is always a bit of a guessing game. Walking around the booths downtown, you’d never know it. There’s kohlrabi the size of my head (and my brother-in-law struggling to walk around with a backpack full of them!) and rainbow chard so buoyant and colorful, it would put a real rainbow to shame. I’ve spent less than $10 on a gorgeous head of purple cauliflower and bags of multicolored carrots (just begging to be grilled), sugar snap peas, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes and bunches of fresh cilantro, lavender and baby leeks. Even better, I’ve never had to worry about not having cash. There are plenty of ATMs on the way downtown. You can also swipe your credit, debit or QUEST card for tokens at the Information Booth and use those tokens as tender at the vendor booths. This is especially helpful if you brought cash, but didn’t bring enough. And let me tell you, once you start, it’s hard to stop!
That’s true even when you leave the market. I love downtown Fond du Lac any day of the week, but I don’t often have time to stop. Since I’m already downtown, I get to explore the surrounding blocks, shops and businesses on my schedule once we’re done. My husband, librarian-at-large, usually steers us to the library and Chapter 52 to pick up some reads. I like to head up Sheboygan past Lillian’s so I can do some serious window shopping. We’ve also checked out a few storefronts along the way that we’d never had the opportunity to before. Some we never even knew were there. This little unexpected discoveries just add to the experience of it all. It’s fun to make each Saturday a memorable one!
Check out the Fond du Lac Farmers Market Wednesdays, June through October, from 11 AM to 3 PM at Main Street Plaza. Saturday markets are held from May through October, from 8 AM to 12 PM on Main Street beginning at the intersection of Main and Forest Avenue and going down to the intersection of Main and Western Avenue. You can learn more about the Fond du Lac Farmers market here, including parking tips, upcoming market schedules and a study on its economic impact on the community.
Simple Mashed Cauliflower
- 1 head of white or purple cauliflower, cut and steamed
- 3 T Olive oil
- ¼ C Plain greek yogurt
- 1 Garlic clove, peeled and chopped
- OR Garlic powder to substitute
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
Wash and trim the cauliflower so you only have the florets. Steam the florets in a steam basket on the stove, or place in a covered microwave-safe container and microwave for 6-7 minutes. Once the cauliflower is soft, place in a food processor or blender. Add the Greek yogurt, olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Blend or pulse until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately. Store in an airtight container refrigerated for two to three days.