(From top) Nola Schultz with her bakery, organically grown produce from West Bend and Pat Wilborn with frozen yellow perch filets raised in his Port aquaponics facility and bibb lettuce from a Racine facility.
Photos by Sam ArendtSnow fell Saturday morning in Port Washington, but there was a taste of spring indoors at the Winter Farmers Market at First Congregational Church.
A table filled with organic fruits and vegetables, including big, red strawberries, mushrooms, carrots, Brussels sprouts, lettuce and tomatoes, grown in a West Bend greenhouse enticed customers.
Tyler Endlich sold the produce and also bakery he makes for Gary’s Market of West Bend.
At another table, Fredonia retiree Bob Bergschultz sold maple syrup he made from the sugar maples he tapped on his property.
Beef sticks, salami and ground beef from grass-fed cattle raised on his organic SauveTerre Farm were sold by Joe Mantoan of Jackson.
There was bakery made by Nola Schultz of Cascade, who baked all day Friday so it would be fresh, and jams and jellies made by her 70-year-old neighbor, Joan Simerlein, from fruit grown in her gardens and orchards.
Schultz assists Simerlein and uses her commercial kitchen, sharing resources.
Other tables were filled with locally produced honey, mustards, sauces, canned fruits and vegetables and soy candles and lotions. There were also organic cheeses, including goat cheese.
Like a proud father, Pat Wilborn of Port Washington walked among the vendors talking to them and customers, while his son Anthony sold yellow perch raised in the family’s aquaponics systems for $14 per pound and $3 heads of bibb lettuce
with roots attached grown in a Racine aquaponics facility.
The fish are primarily raised to fertilize the plants that grow in the closed-water system, Wilborn said. Water from the fish tank is pumped to the plants that extract the nutrients and filter the water, which is returned to the fish tank.
Wilborn’s business FishPort Ltd. and First Congregational Church sponsor the market to promote locally grown products. All items sold must be home grown or made, Wilborn said.
Vendors pay $10 for a booth, with proceeds donated to the Food Pantry in Port Washington.
“As we got into aquaponics, we realized it was as much about marketing and promoting local foods as raising fish and produce,” Wilborn said. “A market this size with a dozen vendors is ideal. We try not to have more than two vendors
offering the same thing so they’re not competing against each other but customers have a choice.
“We don’t have as many Ozaukee County vendors as we hoped, but I think that will change.”
The timing is good, Wilborn said.
“People are getting into eating healthier and buying locally grown food,” he said. “They like to get to know the farmer and ask questions and meet their friends. It’s a little bit of community and socializing and a little bit of marketing.”
That’s what he likes about it, said Port resident Bob Moren, who bought perch and chatted with Wilborn.
“I’ve been going to farmers markets with my wife for 35 years,” Moren said. “We enjoy doing this together. You’re getting fresh produce, you support local producers and you meet friends here. It’s much more fun than going to the grocery
At one booth, pale blue, brown and cream-colored eggs from free-range chickens and ducks were sold by Karen and Clete Kirschbaum of Kewaskum. They operate Ice Age Naturals, a sustainable farm along the Ice Age Trail, with their
neighbors Linda and Jeff Lange. Each couple owns half of a 140-acre farm that was divided when it was sold.
The couples, who didn’t know each other before they became neighbors, raise chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigs, cattle and sheep, moving the animals from pasture to pasture and rotating crops.
It was the second market for the Kirschbaums, who said they enjoy the ambiance, the chance to meet new customers and learn from other vendors
Dawn Anderson and her son Clayton, a Port Washington High School sophomore football player, sold fruits, pie fillings and vegetables they canned and soy candles, soaps and lotions products they made in their Port Washington home. Clayton donated $1 of every product sold to his football team.
Wilborn’s wife Amy Otis Wilborn, a professor of special education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a fiddle player, provides music with her band Bantry Bay for the markets, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Wilborn embarked on aquaponics — the science of combining aquaculture, raising fish, and hydroponics, growing plants in water — two years ago, convinced it could be a profitable and sustainable local food production method that didn’t rely on chemical fertilizers and
pesticides or the use of petroleum products.
He initially envisioned a large commercial operation on the We Energies coal dock that would reflect the city’s fishing heritage and be a tourist attraction.
When that idea was rejected by city fathers, Wilborn, whose mind thrives on a challenge, went in the opposite direction — experimenting with small systems in his home and an attached greenhouse on Pier Street, a block from Lake Michigan. His goal was to design an
inexpensive aquaponics system for home use.
His first effort failed when half of his 40 perch died. He discovered tank-raised perch had to be taught to eat fly larvae.
When aphids infested his plants, he released 1,500 ladybugs to eat them.
Wilborn harvests about 100 perch every three months when the fish are eight inches long. But he gets only enough lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and other vegetables for his family’s use. It’s an expensive operation for such a small yield, he noted.
Wilborn now believes the ideal aquaponics system should be large enough to serve a neighborhood, similar to a community garden.
He has designed a community system that would cost about $150,000 to build. It includes room for a farmers market or food cooperative for local producers to sell or exchange products, he said.
The facility should be in a community setting, Wilborn said, where people will enjoy shopping and sharing the experience, not an industrial park, as some officials have suggested. He is seeking a site and funding for the project.
The winter farmers market is the first step, he said.
The next indoor market will be Saturday, April 30. In May, it will be held every Saturday at the church.
The market will move outdoors in June when Port’s downtown farmers market on Main Street will open, one month earlier than previous years.