Tag Archives: Omaha Farmers Market

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

Memorial Day Weekend Has It All

May 24, 2018 by
Photography by OPL, SAC, Omaha Farmer's Market, Loessfest (provided)

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Pick of the Week—Friday, May 25: Night Markets at Turner Park are back this year and better than ever after teaming up with Omaha Farmer’s Market. This is great news for people who can’t find the motivation to get to those early (to some of us) weekend morning ones. Held on the last Friday of every month, from May through September, the night markets feature your favorite things, including a new cocktail patio, an oversized game tent, and live music. Plus, you know, puppies are always welcome. Check out all the vendors here.

Thursday, May 24 to Sunday, May 27: Say whaaaaaat?! There’s so much goodness going on here, it’s impossible to get it all in. But the highlights of Omaha Improv Festival will definitely include Stellar (Top Shows) on Friday night. This performance features two teams made up of the top coaches and guests, featuring Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall), Mary Holland (Veep), and other hilarious people you’ll recognize. Saturday’s don’t miss show at Kaneko will include several improv groups and the Top Coaches Show, with Seth Morris, Stacey Smith, John Thibodeaux, and (local fan favorite) Amber Ruffin. Get your tickets and the full lineup here.

Friday, May 25 and Saturday, May 26: Omaha Public Libraries are kicking off their Summer Reading Program with some rockin’ parties at every branch, with W. Dale Clark getting things started on Friday. But this program isn’t just for the kids. Adults are also invited to join the fun, with all participants being eligible for prizes, beginning June 1st (while supplies last). So go stock up on some books from your favorite branch and start in on your summer reading. To learn more about the prizes and events, start that reading here.

Friday, May 25 to Monday, May 28: Who doesn’t love free events? It seems like summer is the time for freedom in all forms, and Loessfest in Council Bluffs kicks it off this weekend with water, music, movies, and of course, fireworks. Check out the grand opening of the new water features at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park on Friday, be sure to catch Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons on Saturday, and see the fireworks on Sunday. Added bonus? Dress up on Monday for a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the park. Get all the details you’ll need here.

Saturday, May 26: Ever wanted to see a helicopter up close? Then you should head to Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum for Helicopter Day. They’ll begin their descent at 10 a.m. and spectators are invited to visit with the pilots and get a closeup view of the aircraft. The fun continues inside, with a drone workshop, free movies, and balloon helicopters. Did we mention you may even be able to go up in one of the whirlybirds? Be sure to get there early and get signed up, though. Chances are high these chances to fly will go quickly! Get the full rundown here.

Fiestas, Fresh Air, and Nerd Stuff (Yay!)

May 3, 2018 by

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Pick of the Week—Friday, May 4 to Sunday, May 6: Why wait until the fifth to start celebrating Cinco de Mayo? South Omaha has been hosting Cinco de Mayo events for decades, and they keep that tradition alive this year with a three-day-long extravaganza open to all who wish to salute the Mexican Army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla. Though a minor holiday in Mexico, this day has become a time for the community to celebrate their heritage and traditions. And no, it’s not all about the drinking. (I know that’s what most of you were thinking.) With carnivals, a parade, and even a mariachi mass, this weekend is going to be jam-packed with fiesta vibes. Get the full rundown here.

Thursday, May 3: The Japanese term “jo-ha-kyū” describes a structural aesthetic of forms in motion. The English translation of this concept is “beginning.break.rapid.” The Bemis Center’s exhibit beginning.break.rapid Kenji Fujita and Barbara Takenega looks at two artists—each different but both featuring this aesthetic. New York-based visual artist Fujita makes work out of ordinary materials. Takenega is a painter with printmaking roots. Today only (12:30 p.m.!) Bemis will offer a free, traditional Japanese tea ceremony as well, during which everyone is invited to discuss the relationship between the artists’ work. Enjoy your lunch break and register here now.

Friday, May 4: Ever wondered what it would be like if Snow White went off on the Evil Queen? Or if Napoleon Bonaparte ever clashed with Peter the Great? If these are the types of questions that plague you, then head to The Nerd Roast (Standup) at The Backline. For only $5, you can see some of Omaha’s talented comedians and improvisers hurl insults at each other—as some of your favorite characters, both fictional and real. Learn more here.

Saturday, May 4 and Sunday, May 5: It’s perfect weather for shopping outside, so luckily the Omaha Farmer’s Markets are open again! If you can’t make it to the O.G. downtown one on Saturday (because, Berkshire) you can always head to the Aksarben Village market on Sunday. Help them celebrate their 25th season this year by getting out and supporting your local vendors. Don’t forget to bring your bags and some cash. And don’t worry about grabbing brunch beforehand. The number of vendors with ready-to-eat food (including a rumored biscuits and gravy booth in the Old Market and a confirmed bloody Mary bar from Liv Lounge at the Aksarben location) continues to grow. Find out more about your favorite marketplaces here.

Saturday, May 5 to Sunday, May 6 and May 12 and 13: The 2018 Renaissance Festival at Bellevue Berry Farm is no joke. There will be over 50 vendors, acclaimed joust professionals, historical reenactments, and games of skill. And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all that is to come. Besides the foraging for goods, there will also be plenty of tasty fare to replenish the body and soul as you traipse through the farm, experiencing the days of yore. To find out more, gallop on over here.

Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce

April 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mary Current and her son, Anderson Current, started making hot sauce three years ago. She never planned on being a commercial food producer despite working the front and back of the house at restaurants, studying culinary arts, and being married to a retired food and beverage director. “It just kind of happened,” she says of Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce’s origins. One day this foodie and home gardener decided to make hot sauce from her bumper pepper crop. She had made pico de gallo and salsa, but never liquid hot sauce. Friends and family loved that first spicy concoction and wanted more.

Her four main sauces became habanero, jalapeño, datil, and chipotle, each with notes of poblano, anaheim, vinegar, citrus, garlic, and onion. Specialty sauces have followed. She only arrives at a recipe after much research and experimentation. Finding the right complementary combinations, she says, “is what I really like doing,” adding, “That’s what I get a kick out of. It’s like a gift.”

The initial strong reception got mother and son thinking, especially after the savory micro batches proved popular with Anderson’s friends in Colorado, where he lived with his wife, Constance. The couple worked for Whole Foods. When they moved to Omaha, Anderson helped his mom turn her food hobby into a business. Constance designed the logo with a Medusa-like head sprouting chili peppers. The two shopped the sauces around to trendy eateries like Block 16, and found that chefs and patrons also enjoyed the homemade spicy condiments.

Crazy Gringa has come a long way since Mary cooked and bottled the sauces at home and sold them out of the trunk of her car. Her condiments are now made in a commercial kitchen and are staples at the Omaha Farmers Market, select Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Hy-Vee stores, and some restaurants. She plans on keeping things small.

Working together allows the family more quality time, which is the main reason why Mary likes keeping it all in the family.

“When we make hot sauce, that’s our bonding time together,” Mary says of her and Anderson. Her husband, Doug, helps with receiving.

Mary also likes maintaining a small operation because it allows her to pour as much of her heart and soul into the operation as possible.

“It really is a labor of love. I’m never going to be rich, but I love to see the joy on people’s faces when we’re back at the Farmers Market and they say, ‘I can’t live without this hot sauce.’”

Just as Crazy Gringa showed up on store shelves, City Sprouts board president Albert Varas sought an area food manufacturer with whom he could partner. He realized these simple sauces with complex flavors have, as their base, items interns can grow and cultivate at the City Sprouts South garden at 20th and N streets. He contacted the Currents and found they shared a passion for building the local food culture.

The Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce maven partners with Omaha City Sprouts on a social entrepreneurship project that may spur more collaboration between for-profits like hers and the nonprofit urban agriculture organization.

City Sprouts South grows various peppers for Crazy Gringa’s signature hot sauces. The boutique company, in return, donates a percentage of sales over four summer weekends to support City Sprouts programs. Meanwhile, Crazy Gringa works with other local growers to supply the peppers City Sprouts can’t.

“We just hit if off,” Varas says. “They are all about community service, engagement, and sourcing hyper-local food with a mission behind it. It was always my dream we would partner on bringing a value-added product to market. It’s a great way to engage our interns.

“The relationship adds revenue and relevance to what we’re doing.”

Having the hand-grown peppers picked and processed in Omaha fits Crazy Gringa’s emphasis on fresh, local, and artisanal. Current also creates limited-run small batches for City Sprouts and other nonprofits to give away as gifts or prizes.

 

Anderson helped build the raised beds for the peppers at the site that community activists turned from a dumping ground to a garden.

Mary loves that her product helps a community-based ecosystem.

“So many kids don’t know where their produce comes from and City Sprouts helps educate them about how things grow,” she says. “Those interns learn how to garden, so they learn how to sustain themselves and their families. We’re happy to support good things in the community like this.”

Interns gain a sense of ownership in Crazy Gringa’s success.

Varas says, “The interns need something to do and something to believe in. One intern, Rafeal Quintanilla, is a mentee of mine and he really digs the idea that he has a stake in the finished product because he waters and cares for the peppers and harvests them. He has pride in being a part in creating this delicious hot sauce.”

The partnership with Crazy Gringa “has far exceeded my expectations,” Varas says, adding, “It’s not just transactional—it’s been an incredible reciprocal experience.”

Mary Current concurs, vowing the relationship will continue as long as she’s in business. “It’s an amazing concept. They’re wonderful people to work with. I can’t think of a better place to give back your money.”

More collaborations like this one may be in the offing.

”I think this is a model that could and should be replicated,” Varas says. “My hope is that we will be able to recreate this next growing season with Crazy Gringa and possibly other food businesses.”

Visit crazygringahotsauce.com

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.