In the Loop, Local

October 23, 2008 at 7:57 am

Rob Gardner

I’m gonna skip the accessible/affordable report today.  I did spot some stuff in the weekly inserts, but I have not had a Caputo’s run this week.  I think we all recognize that the era of easy local is coming to a close.  Therefore, I want to point you to where it still reigns, the Loop. 

Now, it appears that the Daley Plaza market wrapped up for the season, but the local food seeker has other choices downtown.  Today and next Thursday, there is a market at Sears Tower.  Next Tuesday is the final appearance of the Federal Plaza market.  I did some shopping at Federal Plaza the other day.  The shopping was testament to what is still out there as well as testament to what a shopper can do this time of year.  First of all, this was no skinny market of gourds and pumpkins.  Farmers showed roots and greens and berries and even nectarines (although my last nectarine buy turned out to be what I should have expected this late); there were tomatoes and lettuces and eggplants and peppers to keep winter at bay.  The Federal Plaza market has a vendor selling local honey and local cider vinegar to expand your local pantry.  Second of all, the farmers, at least some, were willing to wheel and deal.  I ended up with a very large amount of pears for seven dollars from one farmer.  Make some offers.  Everything needs to go, no?  So much this time of year will last, the pears and apples and roots and squashes.  Moreover, as I am constantly reminding, ensure your cooking needs for herbs, garlic, and onions.  See if you can especially bargain for these items.

I highly doubt the Downtown Farmstand will let you haggle.  In fact, they will mostly require you to play prices slightly higher than the Farmer’s Market.  On the other hand, you can pay by credit card.  And in a week, it will be your only game in town, loop-wise.  I made my first visit to this vision of a public market.  I had misgivings about this market the moment I heard of it, and my initial visit did not dissuade me of these feelings.  When I found higher prices, I thought they did that so as not to undercut the farmers at the market.  It turns out the excess prices cover margin.  Yet, given this is a city venture, what are the real costs?  As I heard the farmers were not being charged to place their stuff, I thought it would be more like consignment.  Rather, they are treating the farmers as wholesalers.  All-in-all, the mark-up does not bother me.  I would, however, like to see more products.  The fruit and vegetable on sale was less than at the market, but that part was OK.  There was a range of speciality products like the very good Das caramels as well as items more mundane like Eli’s Cheesecake and Lou Malnati’s pizza (personally I have no problem with these things).  Where it was really missing the chance was to provide the types of day-to-day foods that people need to live la vida local.  No meat.  No eggs.  No dairy.  Also, to start picking nits, while I am fine with them carrying the Eli’s level stuff, I would have liked some finds too.  I’m not the person to be too surprised these days, but I would have loved to find something new besides some rooftop herbs.  And honestly, I did not find the same welcome that I’ve received at Cassie’s.

Whatever displeasures I have with the Downtown Farmstand pale to my happiness that there will be a source for looptime local shopping for several more weeks.  Also, to relate to one of my peeves, I am very happy with a source of local food that is daily and with later hours (although I wish it also opened earlier than 11 AM).  We are ending a period where local food was accessible via neighborhood grocery stores, let alone via neighborhood farmer’s markets.  Local food is not, however, going away, and options remain for those in the Loop.



  1. kennyz says:

    actually, Daley Plaza market was going strong today, and Nichols had a “stock up special” day, with apples, peppers, and tomatoes all substantially discounted off their regular prices.

  2. Rob Gardner says:

    Thanks for the note Kenny. I thought Daley Plaza would be open, but then the web site indicated it was done for the season, I went with that. Regardless, there’s a few markets left in the Loop next week. As we have both found, it’s a buyer’s market now.

  3. [...] few months, with apparent plans for even longer marketing.   As I wrote last week, you have some Loop-based options.  A full slew of winter markets, starting November 8, will meet weekly around the Chicago area. [...]

  4. kennyz says:

    of note, Downtown Farmstand is absolutely the place for your fresh herb needs. Grown on a local rooftop, generous bags of sage, thyme, and organo are available for a mere one dollar. Less than half what you pay for inferior stuff at Jewel. Also available at Downtown Farmstand: local lemongrass – not something I’ve seen at everyday farmer’s markets.

    I do agree that they desperately need to carry eggs and dairy. Not cheese though, as that would put them in a competition they can’t win with Pastoral, which is just a short block away.

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