By Maura Keller | Photo by Holly Leitner
For both locals and tourists alike, autumn in the Geneva Lake area often includes several trips to the area’s many farmers’ markets and farm stands, where locally grown produce can be purchased directly from the hard-working people who grow it. But the appeal of a farmers’ market doesn’t stop there: it often includes entertainment like live music, yoga classes, corn mazes, hay bale playgrounds and children’s games and activities, as well as prepared food options from apple cider donuts to authentic Mexican tacos, all perfect for a morning or afternoon outing in the bright autumn sunshine.
The Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market welcomes thousands of visitors each Thursday from May through October
to enjoy the sights, sounds and delicacies the farmers’ market offers. Sean Payne, manager of the Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market, says the setting at Horticultural Hall, built in 1912, is the ideal location. “The Great Hall, as well as its stunning courtyard with a water fountain and the ivy on the outside walls make it just an amazing venue for a market,” he says. “We have over 60 vendors, live music, yoga class in the courtyard, library story time and kids’ activities in the courtyard too.”
As Payne explains, the Great Hall was always meant to be a community gathering space. Horticultural Hall was built more than 100 years ago to show off the vegetables and flowers grown by the foremen and gardeners on the opulent estates surrounding Geneva Lake. Today, featuring over 60 vendors, the Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market teems with unique foods that can be eaten right at the market or taken home to be enjoyed later. Visitors can find flowers, plants, fruits and vegetables at every turn.
Pearce’s Farm Stand, at the intersection of Highway 67 and County Road F, between Williams Bay and Fontana, offers visitors a full produce shopping experience seven days a week through the end of October. The Pearce’s team says that for most autumn visitors, apple cider donuts are some of the “must have” foods. They are made fresh daily on site and frequently sell out. Pearce’s kettle corn is another crowd favorite thanks to its salt and sweet flavor.
As the autumn vegetable harvest comes in, Pearce’s matriarch and founder Mary Ann Pearce freely hands out cooking tips for the fall bounty, including suggestions for leafy greens, root vegetables and squashes. “My biggest tip to customers is that you don’t have to cut winter squash to cook it,” she explains. “This can be an almost impossible feat for some people, not to mention dangerous, because of the tough skin on many winter squashes.” She suggests poking the squash and cooking it in the oven instead, just like you would a baked potato. “It is so much safer and easier to cut the squash open that way to scoop out the insides,” she adds.
Karen Pearce also suggests boiling and mashing cauliflower as a mashed potato substitute, or slicing zucchini into julienne-style pieces for a healthier version of potato pancakes. And of course, pumpkins and gourds are big sellers in the fall. “We grow a wide variety of colors, sizes and shapes of pumpkins,” says Michelle Pearce. “From miniature ones that fit in the palm of your hand to the monster, 100-plus-pound giants. We have pumpkins that are orange, white, red, blue, green, pink and mixtures of colors. Some are traditional, smooth round pumpkins but we also have uniquely shaped apple gourds, swan gourds, pumpkins and gourds with ‘warts’ on them and others with what looks like peanut shells stuck to the skin.”
Lots of visitors use the opportunity of autumn farmers’ market and farm stand shopping to stock up on unique or locally made pantry items like honeys, mustards, syrups and dips. “One of our hidden gems is our own homemade maple mustard,” says Pearce’s Farm Stand patriarch and founder Bob Pearce. “It’s made in-house from maple syrup garnered from a partner farm up near Sheboygan, Wisconsin.”
And don’t forget about dessert. “Our other hidden gem is our homemade caramel,” Bob Pearce continues. “We have multiple recipes that we use to make melt-in-your-mouth caramel candies, the most amazing caramel apples, and our favorite caramel sauce, perfect for ice cream, dessert toppings or dipping apples in.”
Visitors who are looking to enhance their exterior fall home decor turn to farmers’ markets and farm stands for chrysanthemums, gourds, dried flowers and autumn ornamental plants.
Ultimately, the area’s farmers’ markets and farm stands are an ideal spot for families who are looking to celebrate the season and who want to support the hard work and bountiful harvests of local farmers and gardeners. “We see a lot of families pushing their stroller or walking with the dog,” Payne says. “Everyone can find something at the market — even Fido. It’s just another great way for a family to have fun in Lake Geneva. You can’t buy happiness, but you can go to the Farmer’s Market and that’s kind of the same thing.”
The Lake Geneva Farmer’s Market is open every Thursday, 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., May through October, rain or shine. When you visit, ask for Sean Payne and he will give you the grand tour of the beautiful building and gardens.