Now that the 2017 growing season is in full bloom, area farmer’s markets are opening up across Dane County. Residents on Madison’s south side are especially excited about El Mercadito de Centro, an assortment of local growers that produce a wide variety of nutritious vegetables, meat, and baked goods. Hosted by the Centro Hispano community center at 814 West Badger Road, this market is styled after the mercaditos that are common through much of Latin America that offer a communal space for the expression of culture through food.

“We hope to have many different vendors here each week,” said the director of adult programs Mariela Quesada Centeno. “We’ll start off slowly at first, but the number will grow.”

Currently, the vendors include producers like Angel Flores of Tortillas Los Angeles. He creates organic food items from corn he grows at the Linda & Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justin and Sustainability in Verona. Terri Belz of Sugar River Farm in Bellville brings grass-fed beef and pork products along with sustainably raised chickens and eggs. And Nature’s Bakery Cooperative offers a variety bread products as well as honey, granola and trail mix.

With so many healthy options to choose from local customers can enjoy a selection of products that are comparable to some of the larger farmer’s markets on the Capitol Square, the Hilldale Shopping Center and Monroe Street. In the hopes of providing better food options to members of the community who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP through the Wisconsin FoodShare, El Mercadito de Centro accepts payment in Electronic Benefit Transfer debit cards. In fact, shoppers can double their purchases up to $25 each week through the market season.

“We see folks come to the market who might have thought they couldn’t otherwise afford it,” said Erica Anderson, food security specialist at Community Action Coalition For South Central Wisconsin, Inc. “I think it’s really changed the access that people have to the market.”

The City of Madison Double Dollars program helps farmers as well. Growers can significantly increase their earnings each season while forging better relationships with customers who really need the food items they work so hard to provide. This weekly food budget bonus can go a long way toward helping families balance some of the pressure involved in putting food on the table.

“Fresh healthy food is so good for our bodies,” Anderson said. “Mentally and emotionally there’s a lot of worries associated with buying food and so if we can relieve even a little bit of that, a little less stress can be such a relief. I think in terms of the health of the community, it’s important for farmer’s market spaces to feel accessible and happy.”

As part of a vibrant community of growers and shoppers, El Mercadito de Centro promises to bring much joy to the live families in south Madison.

El Mercadito de Centro is open for business on Sundays from 1 to 4 PM until September 24th.