“One of the main ideas of having a farmers’ market at Centro Hispano is to start building up community for many of the Latinos, especially for people who are new in town and trying to connect,” says Centro Hispano’s Market Manager Marcos Lozano. “Chatting with the customers and the vendors and people at Centro, people really get to know the community and are able to find information and resources they need and find out things that they didn’t know.
“It’s definitely creating new community around Centro Hispano which is a little bit different of a profile that used to attend Centro Hispano before the mercadito,” he adds. “People used to be there more for job hunting and questions about immigration or some type of school help. But now they are going to Centro Hispano for healthy lifestyles as well.”
Centro Hispano hosts El Mercadito every Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. El Mercadito was created to address the food insecurities faced by the south side community and Centro has been hosting it for five years now. The Winter Market is now in its third year. In winter, the mercadito is held indoors in the Plaza of Centro Hispano.
“So far it’s been going well. Surprisingly, we’ve seen very good attendance at the winter markets,” Lozano tells Madison365. “Last year, we had two major road constructions going on around Centro and that affected our numbers. This year, we are seeing our numbers and sales increasing and we’re seeing new faces pop up all the time. I think we have some great vendors and they are bringing new clients to Centro.”
At Centro’s Mercadito, vendors sell organic foods like honey, organic grass-fed beef, eggs, tropical fruits from Mexico, and regional herbs and spices. Centro Hispano’s Mercadito is modeled after mercaditos you would find throughout Latin America that merge food and entertainment for the entire family. They are a little bit different than the traditional U.S. farmers’ markets.
“In Latin America, the mercados – or the markets – have a little bit more of a social connotation,” Lozano says. “You can really get to know the people who are growing your food because we have that culture of market time being very social – people get their food, chat with people they know, you do activities and you have some fun in the meantime. It’s about creating community and bringing neighbors together.”
It’s a day for the whole family with food, music, activities and entertainment. El Mercadito has forged creative partnerships in the community like the one they have with Bikes4Kids where young people can register for free bikes.
“They are signing up people for bikes for the kids. We are really focusing on promoting healthy lifestyles around exercise and healthy foods while you’re having fun with your family,” Lozano says.
“We also have a cooking demonstration every Wednesday at 6 p.m.,” he adds, “which is free and open to the public. We’re using the brand-new kitchen at Centro. It’s been pretty popular.”
Lozano stresses that El Mercadito is for everybody in the community.
“You won’t believe it, but we have a lot of local [non-Latino] people who show up because of the tortillas or some special or rare ingredients that we have at El Mercadito,” he says. “We, of course, have mostly Latinos but we have seen increasingly more and more local people from a variety of ethnicities.”
Stop by El Mercadito tonight, 4-7 p.m., at Centro Hispano, 810 W. Badger Rd. The winter market runs until April 26. The Summer Mercadito usually fires up sometime in June.