Apr 17, 2009
Wisconsin Farm Market Weathers Ups and Downs

2006 and 2007 were a tough couple of years for Wisconsin Territories Farm Market, but owner Kate Zdroik is ready to bounce back and is optimistic about the upcoming season.

Her husband and co-owner, Mark Zdroik, lost his fight with a brain tumor three years ago, which forced her to pull back on a lot of their ventures and focus on the core of the business: the market.

But the market, two miles east of Rosholt in the center of Wisconsin, was fighting its own battle against road construction. Located on a state highway, Wisconsin Territories relies on passersby for most of its business, but the highway was virtually closed from 2006 until 2007, forcing drivers to detour. The market gained customers back last summer, but high gas prices prevented traffic from returning to normal, Kate said. She’s expecting better things this summer.

The Wisconsin Territories Web site gives a brief history of the market. Maynard and Mary Jane Zdroik, who had experience growing potatoes and strawberries, started a roadside stand near their home in 1993. After a few years, their son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Kate, took over management of the stand. Mark and Kate decided to build a new market about half a mile from the stand. The market was finished in 2000.

The market was named Wisconsin Territories because Wisconsin was a territory before it became a state, and they wanted to emphasize that everything they sell is grown or made there, Kate said.

Besides the farm market, they dabbled in agritourism, hosting school trips, selling at farmers’ markets, selling wholesale and selling through the mail. After Mark died, however, Kate was forced to drop or downgrade those activities and make the market the focus of her attention.

Kate, now 43, manages the farm, market and greenhouses with help from three part-time employees. Members of Mark’s family live in the area as well and help from time to time, she said.

The market is open from May 1 to Oct. 31. The season starts with greenhouse sales. Three 30-foot by 72-foot greenhouses supply the market with bedding plants, herbs and vegetable plants every spring and early summer, Kate said.

According to the Web site, the market also sells asparagus, sweet corn, potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, apples, pumpkins, squash, gourds, peas, beans, onions, melons, cucumbers and peppers. Kate grows her crops on rented farmland that isn’t located near the market. Some of the crops, like the apples and strawberries, she gets from other local growers, she said.

The market sells all kinds of local products – honey and maple syrup, for example – but ice cream is probably the most popular item. Wisconsin Territories is the only business outside greater Madison that sells ice cream from the Babcock Hall Dairy Store, located in the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s dairy science building. Once or twice a month during the season, Kate will load a vehicle with coolers, drive two hours to Madison and stock up on Babcock ice cream. It’s worth the effort, since customers will come far and wide to get it, she said.

It’s tough running a farm and market by herself, especially during summer, but a leisurely winter is a nice tradeoff. She spends much of her time doing volunteer work in her community, she said.

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