Who says there’s nothing fresh this time of year? They’ve never seen an indoor farmers market like these local gems. No matter the weather, visitors are sure to find produce, preserves, crafts and plenty of surprises.
During the glorious summer months, fresh fruits like apples, berries and cherries grow ripe while vegetables such as tomatoes, summer squash and sweet corn overcrowd stands at our region’s farmers markets. Of course, when fall comes around, everything from onions and sweet potatoes to cider, warm bread and honey are on display, ready for the taking.
But what about when winter rolls in?
Believe it or not, farmers and producers have plenty to keep them busy – and the winter farmers market is proof-positive. In select locations around Illinois and Wisconsin, you’ll find farmers work year-round selling fresh greenhouse produce and meats while local artisans sell everything from fresh-baked treats, pickles and preserves to woodworks and textiles. These indoor markets are a true cornucopia of goodies from America’s breadbasket.
Twin City Farmers Market, Sterling
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the city of Sterling, Ill., lacked a place where people could purchase high-quality, locally harvested fruits and vegetables, baked goods and other items direct from the producer.
That changed in July 2005 when the Twin City Farmers Market opened to the public with funding and a location supplied by the City of Sterling. It began as an indoor market at the former Twin City Produce Co. building, located at 106 Avenue A, in Sterling. Three years later, the market came under the wings of Sterling Main Street, an organization aimed at revitalizing the city’s downtown commercial district.
“A need was seen in the community, and a group of people gathered to make it happen,” says Janna Groharing, executive director for Sterling Main Street.
The market was still a small gathering – with only a handful of vendors a week – when Groharing began working for Sterling Main Street in the summer of 2013. Today, she oversees up to 25 winter vendors who faithfully gather indoors every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.
No matter what time of year you visit, the market offers fresh, locally grown produce as well as meat, eggs and other goodies.
“The shorter the distance from farm to table, the better,” Groharing says. “People want to know where their foods come from these days. Also, you’re supporting local entrepreneurship. Wouldn’t you rather help your neighbor down the road by getting your beef, eggs and lettuce from them rather than helping a corporate conglomerate who shipped the product in from who knows where?”
Most of the vendors make, grow or raise their own products, but the market doesn’t hold itself to being producer-only, like some markets do.
Regular visitors might recognize farmers like Heritage Beef, which offers hormone- and antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef raised on a nearby farm. Offerings include nearly every type of cut including round steak, ground beef, ribs, tenderloin and brisket.
Another vendor, Meddling Sheep, grows exotic mushrooms, and its owner is sure to tell you all about how to cook, eat and enjoy them – raw, cooked, dried or roasted in a stir-fry.
Artisans also join the ranks, selling items like crafted drinks and art. Sloan Wolfe, of Creative Wolfe, makes yard art with rebar manufactured locally at Sterling Steel. Gale Handcrafted Goods – one of the newest vendors – hand-makes wooden musical instruments such as Cajon drums and American Indian-style flutes. The vendor also serves up espressos, lattes, spiced cider, hot cocoa and a special Chai mix.
Throughout the years, Sterling Main Street has made continual improvements to the venue, including a raised deck and a glass garage door. A dining room area invites people to sit and enjoy their fresh finds.
The fun happens indoors year-round, but once the warm weather yields its first harvest, the market spreads out well beyond the indoor setting.
An outdoor pavilion just outside has been sheltering vendors since 2020. It was completed just as the pandemic broke out that spring – and now, every Saturday from May through October, more than 25 additional vendors gather underneath.
“Similar to those indoors, we see vendors with seasonal produce – both fruits and vegetables, house plants, seasonal fresh-cut flowers, seedlings to get your garden started, along with both annual and perennial plants,” Groharing says. “We have baked goods, handcrafted items – woodworking, metal work, fiber goods, dog treats, photography. Really, there are all sorts of unique things.”
Market loyalists brave all kinds of weather to stock up on locally produced goods through the winter. What keeps many of them coming back is the market’s ability to bring people together week after week.
“It’s a place where people bring family and friends,” Groharing says. “Our regulars are constantly introducing it to new people, and every time we get someone new it’s awesome for them. Once you find it, it’s the best thing since sliced bread.”
Beloit Farmers Market
For nearly 50 years, the Beloit Farmers Market has drawn thousands of visitors to downtown Beloit every Saturday in the warmer months. Since 2020, it’s become a year-round fixture, bringing thousands more to downtown every Saturday throughout winter.
Open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon between November and April, the indoor market at 557 E. Grand Ave. offers a combination of direct-from-the-farm and craft vendors selling only the goods they’ve grown or prepared themselves. The market serves up many of the same goods you might expect at the outdoor market in the summer.
“Depending on the week, we have meat, cheese, honey, eggs, beef, pork, chicken,” says Shauna El-Amin, executive director for the Downtown Beloit Association, which oversees the market. “It’s a lot of different products, but it’s the same stuff you would shop for at the grocery store year-round.”
Among Beloit’s 21 weekly vendors are staples like Wright Way Farm, a husband-and-wife duo that offers a ripe supply of fresh vegetables and microgreens in the cold months. They make their own wheat flour too, says El-Amin.
A good handful of winter vendors are familiar to anyone who’s visited in the summer. These include Van Laar’s Fruit Farm, from Capron, Ill., which brings a bountiful assortment including apples and apple cider, focaccia bread, turnovers and asiago parmesan bread. Kelly’s Pot Pies of East Troy, Wis., sells frozen homemade pot pies with fillings such as beef, chicken, turkey and vegetables.
A new vendor this year is Tartaria Juice Co. out of Madison, Wis., which brings a variety of organic cold-pressed juices that are jarred and ready to take home.
Local craftsmen round out the selection as they put their skills on display. Books & Art by Kimberly Vogel carries works she’s written and illustrated, in addition to handcrafted accessories such as notecards and buttons with book characters, animals and nature photography. Another vendor, Dream Nocion, carries handmade candles, wax melts, jewelry and other pleasantly scented items.
Besides providing visitors with interesting finds and fresh food, the Beloit Farmers Market has another, more subtle goal, one that’s in line with its mission to promote and revitalize the downtown district. This market also serves as a launching pad for local entrepreneurs who are just starting out.
“Bushel and Peck started as a farmers market vendor,” El-Amin says. “So did Northwoods Premium and Bath and Body Fusion. That’s three businesses that were vendors and evolved into brick-and-mortar. The more we can help our vendors, the better it is for our community and them.”