Tag Archives: fruit

The Evolution of Omaha Farmers Market

August 1, 2018 by
Photography by provided by Vic Gutman & Associates

It’s 8:30 a.m. and shoppers are standing by the Ed Welchert Produce stall in Aksarben Village on any given Sunday in the summer. The Omaha Farmers Market won’t open for another 30 minutes, giving Donna and Ed Welchert (and their team of employees) precious minutes to finish setting up the stand. At 9 a.m., it’s time to sell. 

The Welcherts have been a staple of the Omaha Farmers Market since it began downtown 25 years ago. The locations and days of the week have changed—and the crowds have grown—as the market gradually evolved into a refined citywide network of markets with corporate sponsors.

Omaha Farmers Market began in 1994 with a small group of vendors in the Old Market. At the time, Ed Welchert had been farming land north of Omaha with his family for decades, selling his produce wholesale direct to stores like Foodway and Baker’s. When the Welcherts heard about the concept of an outdoor bazaar starting in the Old Market, they figured they ought to check it out. 

Not knowing what to expect, they sent one employee with a card table and a couple of wicker baskets full of produce. It fit in one pickup truck.

“It was a slow start,” remembers Donna, recalling how their employee brought almost all of the produce back to the farm that day.

“The people started coming, and kept coming, and kept coming,” Donna says. Her husband estimates it was a good 10 years before things really picked up, and when they did, it just jumped in attendance, he says. 

Kent Cisar, an Omaha native, started shopping at the Omaha Farmers Market around that time. 

“I loved the vibe of the market back then,” he recalls. “I think the early days of the market for me was shopping with friends who were committed to buying local, high-quality items.”

It wasn’t the first time farmers sold their goods in the Old Market. Agrarians originally sold fruits and vegetables wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores at the City Market. It was a bustling trade in the 1880s, but the growth of grocery store warehouses ended the market in 1964. Ed vaguely recalls traveling with his father, Ray Welchert, to the City Market. Ray was a vendor there, as was Ed’s grandfather. 

In time, the third generation of Welcherts saw their stand grow along with the Omaha Farmers Market. The Welcherts eventually needed to bring three trucks for equipment and produce. 

As Ed Welchert Produce brought more crops, the Omaha Farmers Market added more vendors and locations. The downtown farmers market has expanded to more than 90 booths. In 2010, the Omaha Farmers Market added a second location, Aksarben Village, on Sundays. The Sunday market now has more than 115 vendor booths. A third, smaller Omaha Farmers Market runs on Wednesdays in July and August at Charles Drew Health Center.

The old City Market (bottom right) predated the 25-year-old Omaha Farmers Market downtown.

Cisar has his favorite vendors. He first bought bacon from North Star Neighbors. When they stopped vending, he discovered Crooked Creek Farms. When they switched to selling only at Aksarben Village, Cisar sought them out there.

“The Aksarben Market is now the better market. There’s more vendors, a bit more space, and since it’s centrally located, on nice days it’s jammed, which I like,” Cisar says. “But if you want to get [specific] items, you better get there before 10 a.m., otherwise [they] may be gone. The Downtown Market isn’t as busy with patrons or vendors these days, but it’s still home. I love the Aksarben area and what it’s done for our city, but nothing can replicate the vibe of brick, old buildings and fresh food of the downtown market.”

Other local farmers markets not affiliated with the officially branded “Omaha Farmers Market” include the Florence Mill Farmers Market (on Sundays at the Florence Mill), the Benson Farmers Market (normally held on Saturdays, but discontinued in 2018 after the loss of the Benson market location), and the Village Pointe Farmers Market (Saturdays).

The Welcherts tried to sell at both the Old Market and Aksarben Village locations, but “it about killed us,” Donna says. After 21 years in the Old Market, the Welcherts switched to just Sundays in Aksarben.

The Welcherts typically sell green beans and potatoes. In recent years, they began diversifying their offerings as they noticed younger customers’ changing preferences.

“The younger crowd is more health conscious,” Ed says. 

Donna noticed the shift in customers, too. The first year they brought kohlrabi, she says just the older customers knew what to do with it. “Over the next two years, you saw this huge shift when younger people came and asked for it.”

Count Cisar among the crowd of novelty-seeking shoppers. 

“I think my favorite days of shopping at the market are when I go down with an open mind and let the items I see do the talking,” Cisar says. “I’m always attracted to things I haven’t seen before, like a unique eggplant, squash, or [other] vegetable, and I like asking the vendor how to use it, how it tastes—and, if I was successful, I tell them about it
next week.”  


Vic Gutman & Associates manages Omaha Farmers Market, which hosts vendors selling fresh produce at the Old Market (Saturdays), Aksarben Village (Sundays), and Charles Drew Health Center (Wednesdays) in the summer, in addition to other specialty markets throughout the year. Visit omahafarmersmarket.com for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha.

Downtown’s old City Market

Star-Spangled Fruit Salad

This article appeared in July 2015 Her Family.

Celebrate the Fourth of July with a healthy fruit salad. This festive, healthy dessert is perfect for Independence Day or any outdoor summer party.

Find more great recipes at HealthyKohlsKids.com. The Healthy Kohl’s Kids program is a partnership between Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and Kohl’s Department Stores to educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and fitness. 

ingredients

1 seedless watermelon, halved

1 pint fresh blueberries

1 pint fresh raspberries

1 quart fresh strawberries,
hulled and quartered

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

preparation

On a flat surface, with a sharp knife cut half the watermelon into large slices, about 1/2-inch thick.

With a metal star-shaped cookie
cutter, cut star shapes out of the
watermelon slices.

Cut remaining watermelon into
2-inch cubes.

In a large bowl, combine the
watermelon cubes, blueberries,
raspberries, and strawberries.
Toss gently.

Add the watermelon star slices and sprinkle with lemon juice.
Yield: 12 servings
Serving Size: Serving Size: 3/4 cup, Calories: 119, Fat: 0, Saturated Fat: 0, Cholesterol: 0, Sodium: 0, Carbohydrates: 29g, Fiber: 4g, Protein: 0

FruitSalad1

Tomato Tomäto

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tomato Tomäto, a year-round, indoor farmers market whose name plays off the debate over how to pronounce the name of the versatile fruit (Yes, it’s a fruit, not a vegetable), is a must-stop-shop for many in the Omaha area who enjoy fresh produce, eggs, nuts, many organic goods, and more.

Tucked back from street view near 156th and Bob Booser Drive (just north of West Center Road) in West Omaha, the store carries products from dozens of vendors, all of them local. However you say it, it’s a win-win for the entire Omaha community.

Jody Fritz and her husband, Jeremy, were no strangers to the local farmers markets. As regular weekend representatives of Jody’s father-in-law’s O’Neill, Neb., farm, Garden Fresh Vegetables, the couple got to know the other vendors pretty well.20120904_bs_9299 copy

As the weather grew cooler and the outdoor markets closed up shop, the couple realized they and their fellow vendors still had plenty to offer would-be consumers. “There still is a lot out there when the markets end, so we kind of came up with this idea,” says Fritz. That idea was to utilize the front portion of the Garden Fresh Vegetables’ Omaha warehouse as a year-round farmers market. Vendors bring their products into the shop and set their own prices, and Tomato Tomäto receives a commission off of everything that sells.

“We didn’t really have any capital to start, so that’s where the consignment idea came from, and it’s worked out well,” explains Fritz. “Consumers pay a little less than they would at Whole Foods…and the producers make more money than they do selling wholesale, so it’s kind of a nice middle place for everybody.”

“We’ll have winter squashes and greens that grow in greenhouses—lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, some peppers, those kinds of things—all year round.” – Jody Fritz, co-owner

Since the store opened nearly five years ago, the number of vendors has grown from five to 100. “As more vendors come in, each kind of has their own following, so then all their customers come in and they become customers of a lot of the other vendors,” says Fritz.

Products range from-fresh produce, eggs, milk, and meats (farm fresh chicken, beef, fish, ostrich, and more) to local wines, salsas, soup starters, breads, and pastas, just to name few. “There are always a lot of things going on.” All inventory is fresh and local; organic, as well as gluten-free, options are available.20120904_bs_9295 copy

Regarding the year-round produce selection, Fritz says that, understandably, there is an ebb and flow throughout the year. “We’ll have winter squashes and greens that grow in greenhouses—lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, some peppers, those kinds of things—all year round.”

But Fritz concedes that because Tomato Tomäto specializes in locally produced foods, there are certain items that her store will never be able to offer her customers. “We won’t ever have bananas in Nebraska,” she says through a chuckle. “I get that there are limitations to the place, but I’m just going to embrace those rather than trying to be something we aren’t. I can’t compromise…there are so many foods you can eat in season.”

The colder months bring with them opportunities for customers to order free-range, organic turkeys for Thanksgiving, as well as buy homemade holiday pies and find locally produced spirits to ring in the New Year and celebrate Valentine’s Day. “There’s always a season for everything, it seems,” says Fritz.

Alyssa LeGrand has been a customer of Tomato Tomäto since the market opened and says the quality of the produce is fantastic. “I like to support local farmers and anybody with their own business,” she says. Appreciating the competitive prices, LeGrand says she often stops in on a weekly basis.20120904_bs_9291 copy

On the supplier side, Ryan Pekarek, owner of Pekarek Produce in Dwight, Neb., has been bringing his produce to Tomato Tomäto for three years and says he looks forward to continuing to work with Fritz in the future. “[Tomato Tomäto] is nice because you come back with an empty truck every time.”

In addition to the market side of the business, Tomato Tomäto also runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program in which customers can become members of the CSA by purchasing shares in the program and, every week, receive fresh produce and local products. “I just didn’t have enough room for everything people wanted to bring in, so we were trying to find a way for the farmers to bring their food here and to get it into the hands of people quickly.”

For some, this indoor farmers market may just be the best-kept secret in Omaha. For others, specifically the approximately 100 vendors that supply a wide variety of products to Tomato Tomäto’s devoted customers, it’s the answer to their prayers.

Tomato Tomäto
2634 S. 156th Cir.
402-933-0893
tomatotomato.org

In Memoriam: George Eisenberg

August 20, 2012 by
Photography by Nebraska Jewish Historical Society

The late George Eisenberg, 88, appreciated the historic Old Market the way few people do because of his many relationships to it. His experience encompassed the Market’s life as a wholesale produce center and eventual transformation into an arts-culture destination and trendy neighborhood.

He began working in the Old Market as a peddler’s son, manning a fruit stall alongside his father, Ben, and brother, Hymie, in what was then the Omaha City Market. Later, he founded and ran a successful niche business with Hymie supplying national food manufacturers’ thrown-away bits of onions and potatoes. The brothers, known as “the potato and onion kings of the U.S.,” officed in adjoining warehouses their father kept for storage and distribution. Eisenberg held onto the building even after the produce market disbanded and the area fell into decline. As the area transitioned and property rates skyrocketed, he became a well-positioned landlord and active Old Market Business Association and Omaha Downtown Improvement District member.

“He went to the meetings and spoke his mind,” son Steve Eisenberg says. More than speak his mind, Eisenberg oversaw the careful renovation of his building and secured many of the lamp posts that adorn the Old Market.

The Eisenberg property at 414-418 South 10th Street housed many tenants over the years, and today is home to J.D. Tucker’s and Stadium View sports bars.

Eisenberg-on-truck-copy_2

Eisenberg was half of the wholesaler Eisenberg and Rothstein Co.

As the Old Market grew, he became one of its biggest advocates and enjoyed playing the role of unofficial historian. He’s remembered as a gentle lion who proudly shared the district’s past with business owners, visitors, media, and anyone interested in its history. He loved telling stories of what used to be a teeming Old World marketplace where Jewish, Italian, and other ethnic merchants dickered with customers over the price of fruit and vegetables.

“Something he really enjoyed doing, especially in his retirement, was going down there and letting people know where the Old Market came from and where it’s going. Up till his last days, he saw such a bright future for the Old Market and was very proud of what all was going on down there,” says Steve.

“George was just terrific, a real gentleman, also a wonderful character with a great sense of humor and compassion. He was revered as an ‘elder statesman,’” says Old Market Business Association member Angela Barry. “He was very sharp and knowledgeable about the neighborhood’s history. Even in his later years, he lovingly and passionately cared about the business of the Old Market.

“He really was something special. When I heard of his passing, it was a sad day.”

Nouvelle Eve owner Kat Moser will remember Eisenberg for his wise and generous business counsel.

Steve Eisenberg will remember his father as “a very hard worker who, even in retirement, kept busy promoting other people’s businesses and the Old Market area itself.”

The Eisenberg presence will live on there. “My siblings and I promised him we’re never selling the building,” says Steve. “It’s staying in the family, and we’re going to run it like he did.”

With Eisenberg’s passing and his peddler pal, Joe Vitale, preceding him in death a year earlier, the last sources with first-hand knowledge of the Omaha City Market are gone. But they leave behind an Old Market legacy not soon forgotten.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.