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Fresh off the farm
Times photos: Anthony Wahl Pam Walgren and Dan Dooge, of Perennial Journey, LLC. in New Glarus, stand behind tables of their produce at the farmers market in Monroe.
MONROE - More farmers than ever are marketing their produce directly to customers, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, and the growth in Monroe's own farmer's market is a testament to that.

The market turned a corner this spring, when it received permission from the city to take up more space on the downtown Square to accommodate additional vendors.

"You never know what you're going to find at a farmers market," said Jack of Jack's Popcorn, Durand, Ill.

Jack Schandelmeier is back marketing his famous Red Strawberry Popcorn at area farmer's markets, after an extended family medical hiatus.

On Wednesday, he and his brother were at the Monroe market, selling hefty one-pound bags of the little red kernels of popcorn he has been peddling for more than 50 years.

About half an hour of work, from tilling to packaging, goes into each bag of popcorn, which he sells for $3 at area farmers markets, including Beloit, Rockford and Rosemont, Ill., he said. The only other way to gets Jack's Popcorn is to send Jack a letter with a check, for a minimum order of two pounds and $5.20 for shipping.

Jack said the corn is hand-picked and husked, and then put through an antique sheller.

"It's a labor of love," he said.

More than 1,000 new farmers markets have been recorded across the country, according to results released Aug. 5 in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2011 National Farmers Market Directory.

The annual report indicates a total of 7,175 farmers markets now operate throughout the United State, a 17 percent jump since Aug. 2010, when the USDA reported 6,132 markets were operating across the country. The 2010 number was a 16 percent rise from 2009. The National Farmers Market Directory has been collecting self-reported information about farmers markets since 1994.

Wisconsin, with 231 farmers markets, is on the list of top-10 states of recorded farmers markets in 2011. Monroe, Brooklyn, Sugar River (Paoli), Darlington and Dodgeville are listed for Green and Lafayette counties.

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory is available at

"The remarkable growth in farmers markets is an excellent indicator of the staying power of local and regional foods," Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a statement Aug. 5. "These outlets provide economic benefits for producers to grow their businesses and also to communities by providing increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables and other foods. In short, they are a critical ingredient in our nation's food system."

Penny Wuthrich, Monroe, was buying 15 green peppers and fresh tomatoes Wednesday in Monroe, while her husband Russ got a large bundle of green onions.

"It tastes better (than store produce)," she said, "and we have to support our locals." Wuthrich has flower beds around her home, but a vegetable garden takes too much time, she said.

Farmers markets are often the first point of entry into the marketplace for small and medium size producers. They help these producers incubate their businesses and opportunities, and can offer supplemental income sources to producers who participate in other distribution models.

Marketers Wednesday at the Monroe Farmers Market indicated a variety of reasons for participating.

Luanna Parr and son, Joe, of Paracres, Monroe, have been selling fresh vegetables and fruits at the Monroe market for 5 years, coming twice a week, as part of their business. On Wednesday, the family was selling German Butterball and other varieties of potatoes for $3 a pound, alongside many varieties of tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, peppers, and peaches.

"We do pretty good," she said.

Richard Dauck and Eileen Meyers of Aebly Acres, Monroe, are in their fourth year at the market, and they don't do any other markets, because of the work involved. Meyers keeps track of everything to help plan future plantings and for accounting purposes. Dauck is retired, and said he stays in the business because of his love of farming.

Tom LaPoint, Albany, with the St. Joseph's Work Cooperative, has done farmers markets for three years, but this is his first year in Monroe. Ten percent of his proceeds are donated to Haiti relief funds.

"Customers are fairly steady," he said, "it's a good town, and the people are friendly."

Chris Frelich, Janesville, was on the Square for the first time Wednesday, using the Monroe Farmers Market as a new marketing strategy for Milwaukee's Frank's Gourmet Chips, fried tortilla chips that come in 28 savory and sweet flavors. She has been to 10 area markets in the past month. In the fall, she will move to shops and other indoor venues.

Farmers markets also offer non-profit organizations a spot in the economy.

Norah Sanders, Monroe, was selling cut flowers from her yard in colored vases she has collected over the years, with all the proceeds going to the Green County Humane Society.

Petals for Paws is a Wednesday-only endeavor, she said. And if you bring back your vase, refills are half-price.

Sanders, a member of the humane society board, said people began donating their extra colored vases once they discovered what she was doing.