When the Tosa Farmers Market reopens on June 4, Bekah Johnson will be a familiar face among the farmers and food producers that set up shop at this open-air market in the heart of the village every Saturday. As Market Manager, Bekah is the only paid employee of the Tosa Farmers Market, which is otherwise run by a volunteer Board of Directors. Bekah is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the market and planning for the future.
For Bekah, serving as Market Manager on the same spot where she and her friends used to come during TosaFest to find dates for the Homecoming Dance definitely feels like coming home! And Bekah is thrilled to be a part of the action in her hometown. Read on to learn more about Bekah and her passion for local food and the Tosa community.
How did you come to be the Market Manager of the Tosa Farmers Market? What have you been doing since you graduated from Tosa East?
After graduating from Tosa East, I went to school in Iowa, then to South Africa for an internship, then to Senegal with the Peace Corps. That’s where I first saw examples of what a real community should look like. West Africa, in particular, is light years ahead of (or behind?) us on that front. I learned a lot. When I came home, I started working in the field of Refugee Resettlement in Milwaukee, then Madison, and finally Washington, D.C. Fortunately, a graduate program brought me back home a couple of years ago. By then, I had become really interested in how eating real food is related to overall health, which is related to local food systems, which is related to building connected communities. I saw the market manager position as a perfect mix of these values, and I took a chance and applied. I feel really grateful for the job. Milwaukee is one of the epicenters of a national movement towards real food and it’s awesome to get to be a part of that. I have a lot to learn, which is exciting.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Tosa — besides the Farmers Market?
There are a lot of restaurants popping up so I do go out to eat, but I’d rather stay in and host people. In summer, I’m outside as much as possible; I do leave Tosa from time to time too! Milwaukee has a beautiful lakefront, lots of fun developing neighborhoods, and a pretty great bike trail system. I try to take advantage of all of this.
Why should people come to the Tosa Farmers Market?
Well, everyone has to grocery shop right? The quality of food at the market is unmatched, and going to the market every week pretty much guarantees that you’ll be cooking delicious food on a regular basis. Personally, this is what motivates me to go. Not only that, but meeting your farmer is no longer something that just happens in Portlandia. It’s normal. We deserve to know where our food comes from, and that’s almost impossible with food that’s not locally sourced. Farmers have valuable information for us, for our health, and we can learn so much by going to the market and talking to them.
Do you have any insider tips about shopping at the Tosa Farmers Market?
I like to build a meal in my head as I’m walking around; other people might prefer to plan in advance. The Tosa Farmers Market and some of the vendors provide recipes, which can be really helpful for making the most of your visit.
Are you planning any big changes for the 2016 Tosa Farmers Market season?
We are in the process of selecting our vendors and planning for the season right now. This year, market-goers can expect more of the things that they already love about the market — a carefully curated selection of top-notch vendors, a return of our popular Power of Produce (PoP) kids program, great local music and more. We’re also planning a one-time move to the Rotary Park Pavilion in Hart Park on September 10. We’ll be announcing more exciting details about that day soon.
What’s always in your bag when you leave the market?
Probably some kind of pork, usually something in the potato family. I’m a midwesterner. Meat and potatoes!
Some people skip the market because they’re intimidated by all of the oddball fruits and vegetables. Any advice?
That’s what’s so great about the market. There’s someone standing right there who has an answer when you ask what is this and what do I do with it? The farmers at the market will have way more ideas than you ever will because it’s not an oddball to them. They know all about it, and you will too after just one conversation. Then you can go home and try out their suggestions.
What’s your favorite vegetable?
I’m a big fan of beets, carrots, asparagus….I can’t really decide. Anything I can put butter on, I guess.
What are some of your favorite quick ways to use your Farmers Market haul?
Crock pot! Literally anything you get at the market could be dumped into a crock pot all at the same time and turn out delicious. You just can’t go wrong with real food. It does all the work for you.
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not eating kale?
I actually do eat a lot of kale, usually disguised in the form of a smoothie… I’m the culinary director for a wellness startup; I cook and research food. I’m also a research assistant at Children’s Hospital. I climb regularly at Adventure Rock, and hopefully very soon I’ll get back on my bike!