Once a month, during the cold and windy Wyoming winter, the Wyoming Food for Thought Program hosts their Winter Market. Stepping into building K of the Life Steps Campus, where the market is held, you are greeted by the friendly faces of the vendors. Their tables line the walls of the large circular room, its domed ceiling and ample windows give the space an airy yet welcoming feel. The people behind the tables make the space feel warm and friendly, the opposite of the often bitter cold outside.

Jamie Purcell is the Executive Director of the Wyoming Food for Thought Project. She provides some background of the Winter Market. “It basically started out as a response to the summer market; we saw there were quite a few vendors who would be able to sell year round.”

The Winter Market is more than just a place for local wares, it serves a noble purpose. “Our main mission is to be a solution to childhood hunger. What that means is finding local foods, and local ways to solve that issue. Not perpetuating the idea of getting food from outside of the area and trucking it in.” To further this goal a large brown cardboard box sits on a table just inside the room; canned nonperishable goods fill it.

“For us the winter market is one of the things that fits in our mission of engaging people so they know that there is local food here and where to find it. For our vendors, it gives them an opportunity to connect with local people other than having to have just a storefront or a website.”

The vendors at the Winter Market are diverse and provide a quality of product that isn’t often seen in a large chain stores. Vendors like Annabell Richardson of Annrich Chocolates & Pastry, a certified culinary and pastry chef and chocolatier. She hand crafts fine chocolate treats. “I make all kinds of flavors with the truffles. 6 flavors so far, and it’s my own recipe. The next thing I am going to do it a petit fours.” She sources her ingredients from US companies, though the chocolate she uses is imported from Europe. ”I like to make handmade things, all fresh, different.” Her passion for chocolate is apparent in her work. “I want to bring fine dining style to Casper so they don’t need to go to a big city.”

For your morning pick-me-up, there is Kayla Horn of Mukwano Coffee. Her husband started roasting coffee in college. Kayla and her husband spent two years living in Uganda where they fell in love with East African Coffee. “One day we were hiking at a waterfall and a guy asked us if we wanted coffee, so he took us to his house and roasted it and brought it out to us right there.” Upon returning to the US, they couldn’t find any good East African Coffee. “We started roasting it ourselves, since my husband had the experience.” Their love of coffee has led them to a home business with an eye towards the future. “We are working on getting some people that we worked with in Uganda, they support local farmers. There are a couple hundred farmers picking coffee beans there, from their houses. We should have that by the end of the year.”

Any trip to the Winter Market wouldn’t be complete without stopping by TBS Pollination/Hat 6 Honey. Lara Taylor and her husband Woody, along with his friend David and wife Tanya keep bees in Casper. From raw unprocessed honey to specialty products like propolis and royal jelly, they have something for everyone. Far from just tasting great, local honey has many positive medicinal uses. “Propolis is a product bees make out of tree sap. They use it to seal their hive against disease and infection. For you and me, it kills the common cold.” The benefits of local honey can be felt immediately, if you suffer from seasonal allergies, local unprocessed honey can help calm those allergies. Among the many fascinating products they make is Honey Royal. “Royal jelly is natures #1 vitamin that you can get. It provides every vitamin known to man, and it’s the only thing that produces it naturally. I call it the vitamin with a boost.” Lara has seen the positive effects for herself. “I use to take an antihistamine because of bad allergies, and I used to take iron and potassium, and a multi-vitamin. So I had these 4 pills that I had to take every day. I started taking this product and got rid of all of those pills.” Hat 6 Honey can be found on Facebook.

Cheryl Wilson of Ninny Biscuits makes cookies for breast feeding mothers. Using all natural ingredients they help boost a mother’s milk supply naturally without the use of chemicals. “Were the booby boosting bakery” Husbands and kids love them too.

The local art and jewelry scene can also be found at the Winter Market. Erin Graham of EGraham Jewelry makes hand stamped metal jewelry, she’s been doing it for a year and attends the Winter Market every month. “I prefer custom orders over the regular stuff that everyone has. I like to personalize.”

Lisa Anthony, Francesca Gonzales and Nelson Gonzales bring together pieces from a variety of local artists. The Winter Market provides a venue for their art to be seen and purchased. “I’m going to different artists and seeing what they have (rocks, dreamcatchers, etc) who maybe can’t do something like this on their own, and bringing them together here.” Said Lisa. The focus is on recycled and repurposed materials. “It’s all local and as organic as we can get it. We don’t go out and buy yarn to do this. We go to resale shops and yard sales to get the materials. It’s already been used before, now we are just using it again and turning it into art.” They are encouraging people to reduce, reuse and recycle.

The Winter Market is more than just a gathering of vendors, it’s a community. You leave the Market with more than just good honey, delicious treats, fine coffee, and beautiful jewelry. You leave with a sense of camaraderie and knowledge that you’re supporting your fellow Casperites and helping fight hunger in the community.

Lee Wilson