These days, Saturdays in downtown Sparta buzz with activity from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., on both sides of Water Street, from Beaver Creek Bridge to Lovelock Bridge, in the market areas dubbed “Creekside Market” and “Mueller Square,” as well as on Water Street itself. 2023 marks 30 years of the Sparta Wisconsin Farmers Market, which got its start back in 1993. The market has grown considerably over the years and market vendors are so happy to finally have a place to call home, in downtown Sparta.

It is the hopes of those involved with the market that the expanded area, increased hours, the addition of Tuesday Night Markets, along with live music, shopping, and scenic parks and bridges to explore, that more locals and visitors will be drawn into downtown.

Just two neighbors selling veggies, in an empty lot

Joey Esterline founded the market, with her neighbor, Linda Adams, in the old Cowboy Village parking lot, back in 1993. Back then, it was just those two, selling their homegrown veggies to passersby. Soon enough, more people wanted to vend, and the market began to grow. “In those early years, it was mostly veggies, eggs, and honey,” recalled Esterline.

Carol Schauf, who sold fresh and dried flowers from her dairy farm, has a lot of fond memories. Carol recalled, “The Schlaver family had fresh produce, along with Patsy and Ann; then there was the family from North Bend, by Melrose. There was the Bee Lady, Ann Stoda, from Tomah, and then of course Jackie Jaeger, from KEPS — she got her start at the Farmers Market!” Carol still sells her floral beauties at the market, from time to time, with the help of Joey Esterline.

Eight times is a Charm

Esterline went on to explain that the market moved not once or twice, but eight times, over the years. Although the market was certainly a draw to Sparta’s downtown, they had a hard time finding a location that felt right and fit the guidelines for public and private properties, in downtown. Sometimes there were liability issues, while other times there were complaints that the location wasn’t central or accessible enough.

Originally starting at the Cowboy Village, the market then moved to the north side of the Courthouse, then Union National Bank, followed by the green area - across from Market Bar (part of which is now Creekside Market), then over to the Butterfest grounds - facing Montgomery Street, then to Park Bank’s lot - next to Ginny’s Cupboard, and then the former space for Ray’s Grocery - next to the library, which is now part of the space for the library’s current and ongoing expansion.

Finally, after the first Kriskindlmarkt, in downtown Sparta, Reinhard Mueller, who was the visionary behind the Kriskindlmarkt, approached Esterline and other regular Farmers Market vendors about utilizing the space in the warmer months, too. It seemed like a good fit, but would it work?

A new era begins in Downtown Sparta

2016 marked the first year that Sparta Farmers Market filled Mueller Square’s little houses and cobblestone spaces, for its colorful fare. It was an instant success, with an array of vendors, music, and events, offered free to visitors. In addition to veggies, eggs, and honey, shoppers were delighted to find fresh and dried flowers, preserves, pastries, soaps, art, wooden carvings, and more.

On Mother’s Day weekend 2023, everywhere you looked, people were walking with beautiful floral bouquets, fresh eggs, veggies, seedlings, and arts and crafts. Reinhard Mueller could also be found proudly offering walking tours, showcasing the volunteer-built market spaces and bridges, which now number seven wooden bridges and two market spaces, in Sparta.

Coinciding with the move to Mueller Square, market vendors decided it was time to organize into an official not-for-profit association, so that it could participate more formally and actively, with things happening downtown. Over the years, the market has coordinated with the Sparta Chamber of Commerce, to add value to events, such as Crazy Days, Fall Fest, and more. The market also sponsors the beautiful hanging baskets that are a dazzling display of color, around the market areas. Visitors from near and far always comment to vendors about the beauty of the market, often with the quip, “I never knew it was here! This place is so special.”

Joel Tock, a popular local musician, who has visited and performed at the market with his parents, Russ and Dana Tock, since he was a kid, performed on Tuesday night, with their band Shock Pocket. Joel told the Herald, “I'd have to say Reinhard's craftsmanship has been impressive to see over the years, and everyone involved should continue to be recognized for their hard work. It's also nice to know that people are utilizing all that hard work to show off their own creations and ideas. All-in-all, the abundance of talent and good intentions here is very refreshing, and it has a beautiful place to flourish, right there in Mueller Square.”

Watch this paper for vendor spotlights, as well as fun throwbacks to market days gone by, as folks send them in. The market is also developing a website, which will feature market bios, market and event calendars, information about how to become a vendor, and more.

The Sparta Farmers Market wishes to thank everyone for their support these past thirty years and encourages market regulars to help get the word out on the market and the exciting changes this year, including the expanded location on both sides of Water Street downtown, expanded Saturday hours from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., as well as the new Tuesday Night Markets, with one remaining on August 15th..

For more information, visit the Sparta Wisconsin Farmers Market Facebook Page.


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