Traditions grow at Beloit Farmers Market
BELOIT — Marcia Murray's father, Norman, was among the first participants in the Beloit Farmer's Market more than 45 years ago. Norman died last year in May, but Marcia and her aunt, Mina Deboe, run the Shady Tree Farm booth in Beloit, Janesville and Rockford, carrying on his legacy.
"I grew up sitting on a tobacco planter planting tomatoes,” Murray said. “I learned to drive between the tomato fields when I was just a kid. I would drive along and pick up the tomato crates in the truck before I could even fully reach the clutch on the old truck.
“When he was getting started, my father planted 10,000 tomato plants,” Murray said. “Planting was actually his hobby. He was an electrician by trade, but he loved growing produce. My first summer job was selling tomatoes for him. I would sell during the week at our market on Madison Road, and I'd make $20 a week selling all day.”
There is plenty of heritage rooted in the Beloit Farmers Market, and lots of locals summon up their family memories by strolling down State and Grand and browsing for their favorite fruits and vegetables in their freshest form.
The market continues to grow every year, with more than 90 vendors weekly selling local produce, organics, baked goods, honey, jams and jellies, bedding plants, fish, meat, eggs and cheese, fresh flowers, artisan crafts, scents and skin care products. While it's true that the market will be wrapping up in late October, it still has much to offer in the meantime.
“Every weekend we have live music at the Gantry Stage on the corner of State and Grand,” executive director at Downtown Beloit Association Shauna El-Amin said. “Every weekend you're able to shop in our great open air market and get all the fresh produce, fruit, fresh flowers, crafts and wonderful baked goods you want. My personal favorite is the sweet corn.”
The market, hosted by the Downtown Beloit Association, runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine, every Saturday morning in downtown Beloit. Starting in June it runs through the last Saturday of October.
The association hosts an information booth at the intersection of State and Grand, and this year they are offering official farmers market reusable bags.
Also this year for the first time, the association is participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through FoodShare Wisconsin in order to help lower income resident gain access to fresh, healthy and nutritious food. Every week two different non-profits also have an opportunity to set up their information booths at the farmers market.
If you stop by Murray's stand, she'll tell you the two things you can't leave the market without are Georgia peaches and Mirai sweet corn.
“The peaches and Mirai sweet corn, developed in Harvard, Ill., are the best,” Murray said. “The Mirai is one of the sweetest corns on the market, and it will maintain its sugar content much longer than other corns. Other types of sweet corn will, generally, after 12 hours, start changing to starch. The Mirai can last for up to a month in the fridge and be just as sweet.”
When the market finishes out its season on Oct. 26, the Downtown Beloit Association will close with a Halloween event. Local children can come meet up at the staging area in Horace White Park to participate in the parade that will march through town.
“We'll walk to all the businesses who are participating on State and Grand and then some of the market vendors participate, too, and let the kids trick-or-treat. Afterward, in the parking lot by the Gantry Stage, we will have a fun zone set up where kids can come play in the bounce house and super slide,” El-Amin said.
Beloit is able to stage more vendors than other area farmers markets, said Murray. In Janesville, farmers are restricted to only offering homegrown goods, limiting them strictly to the growing season, and in Rockford many of the vendors have switched over to restaurant booths and wine tastings, says Murray, who has attended and vendored at both. She has no problem admitting that Beloit Farmers Market is the best for miles.
“It's wonderful. I do markets in Rockford and Janesville, and Beloit is by far the best and I have met so many people that have come up from all the neighboring towns and cities. I've even heard people say that it's second only to Madison in size and popularity, and I agree.”