By Susan T. Hessel  

If you were from an older generation like mine, you might see Cameron Park as “a happening place” on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. It is a gathering at the end of the week for arts and crafts, produce, food trucks, music and friendship. Not surprisingly, the biggest draw is an opportunity to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as meat from organic or grass-fed animals.

“We have up to 70 different vendors,” said Linda Vale, manager of the Cameron Park Farmers Market, which also includes the winter market in Myrick Park. “It’s one-stop shopping from local businesses on this one platform. It’s easy to approach one another and have conversations about farming practices, where their farms are, and how they package and produce their products.”

These conversations on what can be made from various vegetables and/or meats build relationships as recipes are shared. “We connect consumers to producers,” Vale said. “When you build a relationship with somebody you buy food from, fresh food becomes more important and you are more mindful of what you eat. You make healthier choices.”

The market, which opens in May for the season, operates from 4 p.m. to dusk Friday nights and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday mornings at Cameron Park, located at the corner of Fifth and King streets in downtown La Crosse. 

Connection is something that Tiffany Cade appreciates. Her business, Deep Rooted, is a small certified organic farm and greenhouse business east of Westby, 30 minutes from La Crosse’s southside. Each weekend, it brings organic produce and vegetable transplants, bedding plants, perennials, landscaping services and cut flowers. 

“The farmers market is a great place to gather. Visiting is a fun family activity and a great way to meet members of your community,” Cade said. “We love being a vendor at the Cameron Park Farmers Market. It is a great way to connect with a wide variety of customers. We take pride in picking produce at the peak ripeness and love sharing recipes and various ways to prepare and preserve produce with our shoppers.” 

Not only can you get your kale, corn, carrots, lettuce and meats direct from farmers, you can buy a wide variety of local crafts, including skin products, pottery and alpaca socks. Children can play on the playground equipment or hear stories read by the La Crosse Public Library and even check out books. A band plays in the evenings and usually a single performer plays on Saturday mornings.

Cameron Park Farmers Market accepts FoodShare, the system that helps low-income people buy good food, including fresh vegetables. United Healthcare matches up to $5, allowing participants to buy up to $10 worth of foods from the market. 

“The farmers market makes this kind of food accessible to everyone. People from every walk of life come,” Vale said. “They know they can find something they enjoy. Part of my job is seeing the entire spectrum of our community represented at that park each week.”

Buying direct has its benefits. “It is a bit cheaper, a nice part about it,” Vale said. “You can also learn where it came from and when.”

Sara Kujak from Driftless Skincare brings such products as soaps, creams and balms. “I love meeting my customers. I constantly am amazed by their stories and their enthusiasm, “ she said. “We have a wonderful community that helps small businesses grow.”

The market’s Facebook page includes reviews from attendees. Among the comments made by consumers are:

  • “The music, the people and the food have never disappointed. Our favorite farmers market!” 
  • “Was such a good time. Lots of fresh veggies and we got the best cheese curds we have ever had! Will be going back!”
  • “The wonderful people. The great selections, it’s for all ages.”
  • “More than just produce! Don’t forget the musicians and local artisans.”
  • “Have only been able to go once! Loved the freshly-made crepes, farm-raised shrimp and thrift-priced flower bouquets! Awesome.”
  • “Wonderful market with free music on Fridays!”
  • “We love the farmers market. I take my girls to watch the music and do some shopping.”
  • “It’s our favorite place to go on Friday nights!”
  • “One of the best farmers markets in Wisconsin and I’ve seen a few!”
  • “Great vendors, people and atmosphere. Our favorite thing to do on Friday.”

Annie Goldman brings to the market a wide variety of her Stoneware Pottery by Annie Goldman. She was there when the market began in Cameron Park, but then took a break for a few years. As she put it, “I came back with a vengeance. I’ve done it now for 10 years and am on the Cameron Park Farmers Market board of directors.

“I do it as a business and for sociability. I love the idea of local produce and local arts and crafts being so accessible to the public,” she said. “The farmers market does a lot for the community with the venue we have.” 

And you can expect even more in the future, with discussions about cooking demonstrations, food sampling and teaching kitchens. Mayo Clinic Health System offers cooking demonstrations and food sampling. The University of Wisconsin-Extension offers food preparation; the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program will provide education; and the People’s Food Co-op will have food demonstrations. 

 “The home kitchen also needs support,” Vale said. “Maybe home cooks are hesitant to come for whole foods because they are not sure how to prepare them. We want to not only get vegetables into people’s hands but into their stomachs, too.” 

“Saturdays have a different feel than the Friday night market, but also very good. People come to it to do a lot of grocery shopping on Saturday, as opposed to Friday night coming and hanging out. It’s an interesting dynamic. You can come on a Friday and have one experience, and come on Saturday for a different experience.”

One reviewer on Facebook summed it up best with: “Good crowd. Good music. Good Vibe. Nice to have in our area.”

 For more information on the Cameron Park Farmers Market, visit www.cameronparkmarket.org or www.facebook.com/cameronparkfarmersmarket.