• Kirk Gaw

Walkerton Farmers Market Season Begins Thursday April 15th

The asparagus should be coming in soon even after recent mild weather and coming into warmer conditions. That means it is soon enough to begin harvesting for the Spring season of the Walkerton Farmers Market held each year at the parking lot of the New Kitchen Store. It is located at 330 Liberty Street just a few blocks north of the downtown Walkerton Victorian commercial district. The local farmers market provides a unique marketing opportunity for area agricultural producers and entrepreneurs. It is known for the 15,000+ Walkerton area residents spread out between the 4 counties.

The charm of the New Kitchen Store continues to attract new customers from all over the region between St. Joseph, LaPorte, Marshall, and Starke counties. The eclectic personality of promoter Phyllis Wille is contagious. She and husband Charles Wille have devoted 10 years of significance to the Walkerton Farmers Market. It has proven an enormous success and is popular for entertainment activities amongst area residents. The Walkerton Farmers Market is an opportunity for regional farmers, crafters, vendors, and creative types to provide for area consumers. "Charles and I started the farmers market when we were downtown about 10 years ago. It was across the street in the little Urey park. It has always been a challenge to get farmers and people together. We have had lots of farmers and no shoppers and then lots of shoppers. and no people," Phyllis said. She and husband Charles invested in the New Kitchen Store and are another successful area business known throughout the region. "It all started with antique dishes after many years," said Phyllis and her husband, Charles Wille, who owned Triple Cross Antiques & Collectibles in Walkerton. She added, "The best part of the job, though, was selling and matching beautiful dishware. That love became a springboard into launching our new business, The New Kitchen Store, which opened in 2006." "Not long after opening, we expanded our product selection from dishes and quality cookware to include gourmet, free-trade coffees, teas, spices, and oils." Their business outgrew their downtown Walkerton building and in 2012 The New Kitchen Store opened at their current Liberty Street address.

I asked Phyllis if she could go into detail about the 2021 Farmers Market season in Walkerton. She said, "We had a cold spell here and it is just starting to warm up, we will open as soon as the first produce gets started which is usually Rhubarb, or asparagus."

"Sometimes mushrooms but, I can't wait and thanks for asking! It should be around the middle of April. Look for the lady who has chives and strawberries!" Later she confirmed the date of Thursday, April 15th.

The Walkerton Farmers Market began as a much needed alternative since fewer places to shop for food in the community became a crisis after The Walkerton Market, Five Star, and Rays Supermarket closed between 2007 and 2011. Today, the Farmers Market and New Kitchen Store sells high-end utensils, fresh foods, crafts, and small appliances. They feature Knife Sharpening events, and hold cooking classes meant to improve healthy lifestyles, and promote go-green choices. Farmers markets have long served as a way to increase food access in low-income areas, support small farmers, local businesses, and bolster a strong, locally empowering economy. Now, with food insecurity heightened after the coronavirus pandemic, the agricultural food supply chain was put at risk. Local economies were devastated by businesses closures. Farmers markets like in Walkerton can fill a critical health and economic gap. But they need federal, state, and local commitment to allow them to remain open and safe as essential services during the pandemic closures.

Farmers markets are holding out as vital distribution channels for local growers too, who are struggling to keep afloat during this time. And while many have raised concerns about social distancing, these markets are putting clear steps in place to ensure they can continue to safely fulfill their food access and economic role. Farmers markets’ innovation and dedication to their role demonstrate that these public spaces like the one at New Kitchen Store in Walkerton are critical sources of physical and economic well-being. They can lay the foundation for a healthier community now and after the recovery from COVID-19.

This pandemic has revealed the fragility of market systems around the country. Many have minimal direct relationships with their state and local governments, and even in ordinary times, there is a significant policy gap when it comes to creating a coordinated local or statewide strategy to support the health of citizens.

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