Farmers Market of Wausau explains why some vendors don’t grow all of the produce they sell

Updated: Oct. 28, 2022 at 6:00 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Saturday will be the last day to shop at the Farmers Market of Wausau. The market brings many people out each season, but some are beginning to question the products being sold.

A Facebook user posted a question in the Ask Wausau group asking where the vendors at the Wausau farmers market get their produce, noting how large and flawless everything looked. Some other shoppers voiced their concerns too, saying they didn’t know where it came from either. One user even said they’d seen supermarket stickers on produce.

One person who commented on the post and shops at the market, Brenda Herek, told 7 Investigates she expects a farmers market to have farmers selling fresh produce straight from their local farms.

“I feel that people felt it, especially in that conversation online, that they were misled because I’ve never seen any signs saying where those wholesalers grow and I think it puts the customer perhaps in an awkward position to have to ask that; somebody shouldn’t have to,” she said.

The Wausau Farmers Market says it’s true that some vendors do sell products that they didn’t grow themselves.

“In 2012, there was a lot of conversation about making us a growers market, which is super important, because that makes it a lot more fair for the farmers who are actually growing the produce,” said Stacey Botsford.

Botsford is a board member of the Farmers Market of Wausau and a vendor selling produce from her farm in Athens. She explained that when the market was created, there weren’t rules around whether vendors could sell purchased products they did not grow themselves.

“It wasn’t fair for us (farmers) to be doing this, really like putting a lot of effort into making sure that we have these certain fruits and vegetables, and then having it show up two weeks before there was-- sweet corn, is a great example.”

She continued that some vendors at the time would bring sweet corn from southern states where corn is ready for harvest earlier.

“However, a lot of the vendors who had built the market in the first place had made a living, and designed an entire business model off of these other sources for their foods coming in. So, it felt a little unfair to take that away from them since they were the ones who built the market in the first place.”

Botsford said the board wants to respect the vendors who helped establish the market, even if many members and vendors believe it should become a growers- and makers-only market. In 2013, the farmers market board instated a rule that requires vendors to have significant participation in creating the items they sell, but it grandfathered in the vendors who were already selling purchased produce.

The idea behind the decision is to allow those founders to continue their businesses and ultimately become a growers-only market as those vendors retire and are replaced by new vendors who have to follow the 2013 rule. Nearly a decade later, that is almost the case, as only a handful of vendors continue the practice.

Botsford saw the Facebook post that began this conversation and commented that perfect-looking produce is not a good way to gauge whether produce was first purchased elsewhere or grown locally. She said farmers work hard to make sure their products are quality and fresh. She had some tips for market shoppers looking to know more about their food and where it comes from.

“Talk to the farmers... You’ll feel very confident buying from the farmers knowing that the food is coming from them if you have a conversation,” she encouraged. “Most farmers have a web page; you can look up or check it out and do a little of the work yourself to know that you’re getting food from a local source.”

The Farmers Market of Wausau only governs vendors who are set up on the gravel site. Vendors set up outside of that area, including across the street or in the parking lot outside of the former VFW hall do not have to follow those rules. The Wausau Winter Market is also separate and governed by different rules. That market, Botsford said, is a growers- and makers-only market.

7 Investigates attempted to reach out to vendors who were identified as continuing the practice of selling at least some purchased products they did not produce, but none wanted to comment.

To see the market’s full list of rules including the item governing selling purchased products, click here.