Believe it or not, it doesn’t need to be summer for folks to enjoy a farmers’ market.
The Bank Street Winter Market, which operates in a building across the street from the outdoor location of the popular Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, is open 8 a.m-1 p.m. every Saturday from December through April. And like its seasonal sibling, the winter market offers fresh vegetables and produce, meat, eggs, cheese, coffee, baked goods, prepared foods and handmade products in an environment of music, energy and fun.
Held inside the Bank Street Bingo Hall, at 1157 Bank St., the Bank Street Winter Market was hatched in 2011 by Carl Rizzuto, owner of Papa’s Italian Sausage, and bingo hall owner Joe Mapes. The outdoor market, Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, of which Rizzuto is a regular vendor, operates from May to Thanksgiving and he believed that the area could support a similar farmers’ market in the winter.
“Carl has operated the concessions at the bingo hall for many years,” Mapes said. “In 2011, he asked me if I’d consider having a winter farmers’ market in the hall. At first I was reluctant, since we have bingo every evening except on Mondays. I wondered how we could pull it off in between Friday-night and Saturday-night bingo. But we did.”
To convert the building from bingo hall to winter market, Mapes rearranges the 100 tables used for bingo into the 80-plus tables needed for the 53 vendors of the market. When the market ends at 1 p.m., Mapes’ staff resets the tables again for 6:30 p.m. bingo.
Mapes admits that Rizzuto’s interest in having a winter market surprised him. “Carl is one of the hardest-working men I know,” he says. “I thought he’d want a Saturday off during the winter months.”
Rizzuto says he became convinced a winter market would succeed after he talked with vendors at the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market and discovered they had products to sell and customers who wanted to buy those products during the winter months.
The winter market was also inspired by a more informal effort by vendors to sell their wares off-season in the parking lot of the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market. The city of Kalamazoo put the kibosh on this endeavor in March 2010. Another winter market, owned by Kavan and David Geary, operated in a building at Crosstown Parkway and South Burdick Street in the winter of 2010-11 but could accommodate only about 15 vendors.
“A lot of people don’t know about the winter market, and they suspect the fruits and vegetables aren’t fresh or local,” Rizutto says. “But we have a lot of greenhouse farmers in the area.”
One of those farmers is Jeff Payne, of Summer Sun Greenhouses/Farm, in Lawrence. Payne’s winter market offerings include a wide selection of fresh vegetables such as lettuces, greens and tomatoes that are “certified naturally grown” in his five greenhouses.
“We use the same principles as organic farmers do but without the cost of organic certification, which is expensive,” says Payne, explaining the “naturally grown” designation includes such methods as relying on ladybugs and praying mantises to go after aphids rather than using pesticides.
Payne was one of the original farmers to sign up to sell at the winter market back in 2011. He operates his greenhouses year round as a complement to the 12 acres he farms during the warmer months.
“A lot of people think of hothouse tomatoes when they think of greenhouses,” Payne says. “Those are picked green, which hurts their flavor. We pick our vegetables on Friday for Saturday’s market.”
Winter market regulars Pam Hoppe and Rachel Warga, both of Kalamazoo, often buy Summer Sun’s produce and say they love the winter market. “We’ve been coming all five years it’s been here,” Hoppe says. “We’ve gotten to know the vendors, who have introduced us to new foods.”
Jackie Smith, a former grower who now owns a landscaping business, has also been a regular customer since the market opened.
“I know the value of what it takes to grow produce, and I want foods that are fresh and high in nutrients,” she says. “I have my favorite vendors like Young Earth Farms, Green Gardens and, new last year, The Cheese People — and I’m willing to spend $60 a week for their products.”
Vendor Katheylynn Gold says the winter market has allowed her to maintain a year-round business selling her Curvey Girl herbal products. Gold grows her own herbs for the soaps, essences and healing salves she makes in a small cabin in the woods near Lawrence.
“It’s fun to be here,” Gold says. “There are so many conscientious people who want to support local farmers and who are interested in putting good food in their bodies. It’s a high-energy, upbeat place.”
This article originally appeared in our Encore’s February 2016 issue.