How Many Farmers Markets Can You Do in a Saturday?
Editor’s Note: This is a guest feature by Monica Rogers. We were thrilled to have her chronicle her trip around Chicago’s markets. Be sure to check out the full photo essay of this day.
Nine is the short answer. We did nine farmers markets one Saturday morning. Our aim was true: Spend a Saturday spiraling through a quick succession of Chicago-area farmers markets and A: we’d get an unbiased feel for the differences between each, and B: best-of highlights would stand out. Starting from our home in Evanston, we had five hours (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) to reach markets we’d pinpointed from Glenview on the north side, to Printers Row on the south end of the city. With my teenage son Ethan as navigator, we worked our way through traffic, found parking, walked from parking to each market, took photos, scoped produce, chatted with farmers, and schlepped purchases back to the increasingly-hot car.
The result: We did get the “feel” for each market, but honestly? (Here comes the longer answer:) “Quick trip” and “farmers market” don’t happily coexist. Being manic messes with the mojo of the whole slow food schtick. There just isn’t enough time to smell the Mexican tube roses. Sooooo…..our hope is that’ll you’ll take some tips from our research-minded fast foray to help strategize slower-paced farmers market visits through the rest of this season and into next year. There are more than 30 farmers markets in Chicago and suburbs open on Saturday mornings this year. Most will be going strong through October.
1. A Little Homework Helps
Oddly enough, every “complete” list of area farmers markets we searched through online left markets out. Most lists didn’t provide contact names and telephone numbers for market organizers. And none of them included names of farmers/vendors at the markets. This makes it tough if you have specific items you’re looking for, or farmers you’d like to visit. But a little homework can help. The Local Beet’s Farmers Market Finder has the most complete, far-reaching, and up-to-date market schedule information (just enter a date you want to hit the markets and look for the green markers). While not 100% complete, the Illinois Department of Agriculture site has markets listed by county and including contact information for the people in charge at each. If you call or e-mail during the week, the contacts should be able to tell you what product categories and farms are represented at the farmers markets they oversee. For more detail? Google the name of the farms that interest you to find e-mail or telephone information. Most farmers will be happy to tell you what they’ll be bringing to market that week. Some, such as Stewart Balbach and Gregg Lloyd of B&L Gardens in Gratiot, WI, even have an email newsletter they send out to customers towards that end. Additional resources: Some info on city-run (Chicago Mayor’s Office of Special Events) farmers markets may also be found at www.chicagofarmersmarkets.us Also helpful: Some of the bigger independent farmers markets have their own websites that include vendor and product info. Best-of-the-best indie websites? The Green City Market has complete profiles and contact info for each farm/vendor included at their market in Lincoln Park. The Glenview Farmers Market also has profiles. 61st St. Farmers Market will soon have them too.
2. Different markets, different vendors
Whoever said, “All Chicago-area farmers markets have the same vendors,” was wrong. While there are some great, larger vendors (Nichols Farm & Orchard, Genesis Growers, Tomato Mountain) that have representatives selling at different farmers markets on the same day, many farms are just too small to do this and will only be at one area market on a Saturday. Others say they just like to stick to the market they’re locally connected too. If you want some sour cherry tarts from Zingarella Cafe in Glenview, for example, you’ll have to visit the Glenview Farmers market. To buy some of B&L Gardens Black Krim tomatoes, you’ll have to go to the Edgewater Greenmarket.
3. Map Things Out
If you plan to visit several Saturday markets to obtain specific items, mapping helps. To streamline our journey, we mapped our course from north to south, plugging in market opening times(some start at 7 a.m; others not ’til 8 or 9.) Markets are less crowded during early hours—good to know if you hope to talk to the farmers. Finding parking in busy neighborhoods can take time and can be costly, so bring extra coinage. Some markets—such as Printers Row—are hidden away, and take a little hunting to find.
4. The Big and Small of It
There are farmers market giants with dozens of vendors, such as Green City and Oak Park, and their tiny siblings, which only have a handful of sellers, such as West End in Evanston, and Printers Row. The biggies create a carnival atmosphere with visiting chefs, music and other entertainment. Smaller markets have a quiet charm all their own. Here’s a summary of our nine-market morning:
8 a.m.–Rainy morning is supposed to lead to very hot day. It seems right to start our farmers market foray with a visit to a “real” farm: Glenview Farmers Market gives you that. Vendor tents are just across the street from Wagner Farm and its mooing cows and crowing roosters. Few people here yet—loads of vegetables, fruits, especially blueberries and peaches. Stack of red wooden wagons to tote your purchases. Everything looks very fresh in the morning rain. We buy some shiny eggplants for later, and a couple of tarts for now, then saunter over to say “hi,” to the cows.
8:52 a.m.—Oops. Almost nine a.m. (!?) We’re trying to visit as many markets as possible before 1 p.m., and have only managed one! Pick up the pace…On our way to Wilmette French Market now… Set up alongside railroad tracks under corrugated roofs, it has a peddler-esque almost “Little-India” feel, Ethan thinks. Lots more craft vendors, it seems, than farmers. But we do admire the produce from organic grower Lavanway Farm, Berrien Center, MI, and from Mick Klug Farm, St. Joseph, MI.
9:10 a.m.—Evanston Farmers Market is mobbed. No parking anywhere near for our oversized van. People hurrying over with their fabric totes. A parking spot opens up eventually and we head over to the white-tent-populated parking lot. Although some people are socializing, most seem intent on finding the best offerings… difficult to maneuver inside tented areas, but plenty of room to stroll through the wide main aisles. Huge variety of produce, flowers, cheese, baked goods. We gravitate to the unusual offerings from Theresa’s Fruit and Herbs, Eureka, IL—aronia berries and ground cherries. Also can’t pass Green Acres Farm, North Judson, IN. Walk out with Rosita Chinese eggplant, Egyptian Egietto beets, Purple Rain and White Satin carrots.
10:00 a.m.—We blow right past Edgewater Green market on the first pass heading south on busy Broadway. Market is tiny, tucked into a sidestreet, but a good number of shoppers.
Get talking to Gregg Lloyd about his naturally-grown produce from B&L Gardens. We buy Black Krim tomatoes, and, some stripey Armenian cucumbers. Lloyd and partner Stewart Balbach, the ‘B’ and ‘L’ of B&L Gardens, Gratiot, WI, maintain a home in the neighborhood. That, paired with the fact that they’re a very small farm, makes them happy to sell only at this market.
10:20 a.m.–Crammed into the neck-tie-bedecked fenced playground of a school, the Nettlehorst French Market in Lakeview feels like its got more than the 17 vendors that are actually here. Not a place to push strollers, but energetic, bustling, friendly crowds, pleasant vendors. Four men vie for the best tomatoes at one stand. Guy hawking sweetest sweet corn attracts attention a few booths over.
11:00 a.m.—It’s very hot now. Ethan’s flagging. I’m delusional to think I’m going to find street parking in Lincoln Park at this hour… But I do! in a cul de sac a block over from Clark St. We’ve reached what’s gotta be the mother of all Chicago area markets: Green City. Very pretty grassy expanse, mature trees make this much more a “you gotta stay a while” market. Lots of kids and dogs playing in the center of the main circle of tents. People sit on chairs, noshing, talking. Working our way around, we meet and greet farmers, all selling sustainably grown or organic products. Linger over Chicago Honey Co-op’s honey. Then head up the “Midway”-esque outer lane of markets selling fruit smoothies, sandwiches, salads, in addition to produce. Ethan can’t pass on the mini donuts from Zullo’s, Chicago. Vendor hands him a fresh, sugared coneful and he’s revived.
11:50 a.m.—Running out of time! A few blocks south of Green City, Division Street market seems particularly full of flowers today. Mexican tuberoses, sunflowers, gladiolas. Sun is high and hot overhead. Set up in the middle of Division Street, straddling Dearborn, this market has a busy-city bustle. Nice mix of produce, bakery, flower, egg, meat vendors.
12:15 p.m.—Printers Row. A maze of one-way streets makes this teeny market hard to hone in on. Very quiet, few vendors, very relaxed. Can’t pass on the peaches from Dale Miller Farms, Coloma, MI.
12:40 p.m.—Time for just one more. Rats! We had wanted to get to 61st Street Market, and City Farm’s Heirloom Tomato Stand. We’ll have to save those for another day. We finish our Saturday spiral with a stop at Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand . Crowds flocking to Millenium Park throng the Michigan Ave. intersection at Randolph. We spot the market half-a-block west, just across from the Cultural Center. An indoor venue this cool, quiet little grocery-store featuring produce, dairy and baked goods from many of the same vendors that supply the city farmers markets. Nice to know it’s open later than many markets (11 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays; 11 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday) so if you’ve missed the farmers markets, you can get the same good stuff here.
1:00 p.m.—Completely pooped. We’re rehydrating at Hannah’s Bretzel on Washington with cool drinks, organic gazpacho. Overall, our Saturday spiral was a whirl. Leaves us curious to see more, but definitely at a slower pace. And once we’ve finished the Saturday markets, there are Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday markets, to think about.