Situated in the heart of Main St. near Old Settler’s Park, the market attracts residents and tourists alike.
Farmers, business owners and organic shoppers are eagerly awaiting the May 21 start of another season filled with locally-grown fruits and flowers, vegetables, bakery, frozen meats, eggs, cheese curds, and more.
Over 70 regular and seasonal vendors take part in the Saturday West Bend market.
The event actually dates to the 1950s when farmers and fowl and pigs in a pickup gathered mid-week in a parking lot near the railroad depot.
Early memories of West Bend Farmer’s Market are about as hard to stir up as a photo of the event itself.
Long-time resident Joe Huber vaguely remembered a “circa 1930s sucking pig exchange” held monthly just west of Cedar St. and Main.
Sadly, Huber stands alone with that memory as there are few left in West Bend that can concur.
Herb Tennies of West Bend remembered the farmers market from the 1950s.
“You crossed the railroad tracks and there was a tavern on the right-hand side and a parking lot and that’s where the market was held,” he said.
Quite a few neighbors who may qualify for senior-citizen discounts have similar recollections.
“There was a walkway that went down across the old walking bridge over and there was a parking lot there behind the tavern, to the north and that’s where it used to be years ago,” he said.
Tennies set the scene with other businesses in the vicinity of the depot including a beauty shop, a pumping well for the city, and a building next to the river owned by Steiner Electric.
According to information derived from records at the Washington County Historical Society, the depot also had White House Milk Co. and Wallao Dairy on the west side of the tracks along with Kocher’s Tavern.
“The market was held in the mornings and the farmers would come in and after they sold their stuff they’d go by Charlie Palt’s tavern, Patsy’s Tap and have a drink and buy a case of beer and go home,” said Tennies.
Veteran Terry Vrana said he’d be at the Farmer’s Market back in the 50s when it was as in the parking lot north of the old White House Milk.
“We called it the Pig Market,” said Vrana.
“We’d get up early and help the neighboring farmers catch pigs and sometimes sheep to sell.”
Vrana didn’t remember as much of the drinking aspect of the market as Tennies, but he did remember the shouting. “There was lots of bartering going on,” said Vrana.
Nick Habersetzer said he was just “a little shaver” in the 1950s. He vividly remembered the market and how people would “rush the pig trucks” when they pulled into the parking lot.
“I’m serious, some people would jump on the trucks and trailers and try to buy the pigs before the farmers even got in the lot,” he said.
“I remember my dad had all these little pigs in his truck and as he was driving people would be hanging on the truck trying to buy the pigs and get a better price,” said Habersetzer.
Washington County Fair manager Sandy Lang said she’d go to the market when she was a little girl with her grandfather, but they called it Pig Fair.
“My grandfather would sell his pigs and there were also a lot of chickens, sheep, ducks and geese – just a lot of animal bartering; depending on the season there would also be potatoes or apples or something,” said Lang.
Trucks and trailers served as the primary tables for farmers to display their wares. About 25 farmers participated in the week-day market.
Bertha and Willard Tackes of West Bend are considered original vendors; their participation dates back to the mid-1970s.
“We’d sell a little bit of everything and vegetables,” said Bertha Tackes. The couple dealt exclusively in vegetables and not livestock.
Tackes vaguely remembered about seven regular vendors at the market and recalled bartender Tommy Austin having a hand in organizing the event. “We didn’t really have assigned spots; who ever came just parked and set up,” she said.
Kris Heise with Beechwood Cheese said she’s been coming to the West Bend Farmer’s Market since the mid-1980s.
“We’ve been here since 1986 when it extended as far south as the island outside the theatre near Hickory St.,” said Heise.
“You used to be able to carry your things to the south end of the market, let them sit there, go get your car, pull around and stop and pick up your stuff and continue the circle and head south out of town,” she said.
Over the years the Farmer’s Market boundary has moved slightly north, however Beechwood Cheese continues to hold down the far south corner, just outside the old Creations of Joy and Glory costume shop.
While boundaries, vendors, merchandise and customers have changed over the years – the one mainstay has been the positive reviews.
Heise distinctly remembers a customer who approached her booth in 2002. “She said you know this market is really outstanding. This easily rivals the Madison Square Farmers Market,” she said.
That next year, Heise went to the market on the square in Madison. “Other than a lot of Asian items and dried meat items, it was almost identical.
“Our market has always been outstanding,” she said. “People look at it more than just running to go get my vegetables or cheese or whatever.
“It’s not unusual for people to come for an hour, visit with friends, grab a coffee, sit a while, nibble on cheese curds and have fun watching the music up at Settler’s Park,” said Heise.
Vendor David Herther, 52, from Hartford said the West Bend Farmer’s Market carries a lot of memories for people.
“I like the open-air markets,” said Herther. “If you want to shop in an enclosed area, you might as well go to a store.”
Herther also thinks the products at the Farmer’s Market are fresher and taste better.
Over the years Herther has diversified offering broccoli, pickles, potatoes, cauliflower, raspberries and strawberries.
Regular vendors at the current market include Tom Laufer from Candyman on Main, Cheryl Thill and her ice cream paddle bars from Thill’s Honey Garden, Steve Bublitz from Bublitz Produce, and Jodi Janisse from Café Soeurette, just to name a few.
The West Bend Farmer’s Market is scheduled to run May 21 through October 29.