From the moment you speak with Young Kim, director of Milwaukee's Fondy Farmers Market, you can sense the hope, dedication and resiliency of an individual working for a better future in his community.
The Fondy Farmers Market, located on Fond du Lac Avenue just north of North Avenue, is the only farmers market directly serving Milwaukee's central city. This Saturday, the market kicks off the 2008 season with a "BBQ and Greens" cook-off competition.
Created in 2000, the Fondy Farmers Market was the logical response in a community overpopulated with fast food outlets and convenience stores lacking fresh produce. A shortage of available produce, combined with a lack of transportation and nutritional education, shaped a social landscape perfect for a local farmers market.
The Fondy Farmers Market is supported by a group of 30 local and regional farmers, located as far south as Seven Mile Fair and as far north as Saukville and Germantown.
"These are small farmers so the big advantage of a small farmer is they have the time to talk to you," says Kim. "When you have a relationship with the farmer, you have a relationship with your food. And that to me is a really good way to eat and a really good way to live."
With only one larger 200-acre supplier, most of the farms are about 10 acres and specialize in farmers markets.
"They are the antithesis of the factory farm that you've been hearing about," says Kim. "They don't look at their fields from 10 feet up in the air-conditioned cab of the tractor. They are walking their fields and picking their crops."
Fondy Market's holistic response to farming also extends to philosophies on growing, harvesting, selling and cooking. The Market is open six days a week during the key summer months, allowing neighboring residents to literally cook and eat "farm to fork."
"Eating seasonally, by that I mean eating tomatoes when they are ripe in your region, that's how we used to live," Kim said. "That's how our grandparents and great grandparents used to live. And they lived closer to the earth's rhythms and we've kind of lost that. We're used to getting asparagus in November because our food system has become so globalized."
Kim's distinction between local produce and produce at your local grocery store is crucial to the philosophy of the Fondy Farmers Market.
"Most stores are set up to buy palette loads of the same thing that will travel well across the country or globe. And so to be honest, ours is a completely different experience and product."
In addition to the weekly Saturday market, the Fondy Farmers Market televises cooking demonstrations on wellness, healthy cooking and produce availability.
"What we have really found is that a lot of the recipes that use natural, whole foods are not very difficult. A lot of the recipes use only six ingredients and we can show that good food does not have to take six hours to produce."
While cooking demonstrations are meant to educate the entire community and customer base, the Fondy Market has also developed an educational curriculum for middle school age girls in the community. With fewer and fewer two-parent homes in the central city, much of the cooking responsibility has shifted to adolescent girls.
"Middle school-age girls are certainly a population that is beginning to cook and we believe that if we make a change in those habits now they will continue when they are older," says Kim. "Studies have shown that girls who have family dinners regularly, no matter what form of a family, are less likely to have eating disorders or become pregnant. We want to help foster this relationship."
Fostering local relationships is central to Fondy's non-profit stance on community action and collaboration. The Market operates as one of the largest producer-only markets in southeastern Wisconsin but welcomes the possibilities of others to join the area.
"For a while there, I thought we might be approaching saturation point of farmers markets but I don't think so," Kim says. "I mean, the more convenient we make it for people, the better. For me, it's not about perpetuating the machine but eventually coming up with a solution that solves the whole issue. A big part of that is encouraging people to both value and use local produce."