Wanted: One Permanent Indoor Farmers Market
Wanted: one year-round permanent indoor farmers market in Chicago.
How close are we to that goal?
Green City Market came rather close last winter, hosting a bimonthly version in the Peggy Notebart Museum during the winter months (which will continue this year). But Chicago deserves a fully functioning, permanent structure that features locally made goods all 12 months out of the year.
The ideal situation would mirror the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. A beautiful older building on the east side of downtown, the St. Lawrence Market is open five days a week, year-round (closed Sunday and Monday, typical days of closure in Ontario). The two floors are filled with nooks and crannies of businesses selling anything from meat and baked goods to mustard.
Or we could even have a structure similar to a downtown market a little closer to home, in Milwaukee. Nestled in the downtown area, the Milwaukee Public Market has two floors where they sell everything from spices, baked goods, ready-to-heat treats, and once again, mustard.
Farmers markets don’t have to be limited to fruits and vegetables in the summertime. There is year-round supply and demand for locally grown food. If you visited the Green City Market during those winter months, you saw a high demand.
In a city where we celebrate flowers, even the ones in the middle of our streets, we need to be a city that celebrates other growing things that we can eat.
On a recent trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, I admired their indoor farmers market, a year-round event on Saturday mornings. People told me that if I was impressed with the current setup, I should come back and visit the new facility that were renovating, so that the city could have a daily, year-round farmers market. The new location is on the waterfront, and looked like it could hold a lot of vendors and patrons. And it would be good to know that regardless of weather, farmers and consumers could meet up for locally grown food.
For Chicago, the soon-to-be-open Metra Market in the Ogilvie Transportation Center building (formerly known as Northwest Station) could be part of that solution, or a nice supplement to a year-round market.
The fantasy structure for a year-round farmers market building in Chicago would be the old Post Office for its sheer size. But there are better locations that could provide a more appropriately sized facility. Somewhere near the Chicago River would make a nice aesthetic. We could even debate about whether a structure should be located in the downtown area.
There is even the possibility of using the bottom floor of a building, where condos or other businesses would be located above it. Imagine living in a condo where the major farmers market building would be right downstairs. You could even shop for locally grown food in your pajamas.
Realistically, given the models in Toronto and Milwaukee, you do want two floors. One nice treat in the Milwaukee is a space available for cooking classes and demonstrations, a nice feature to have in a farmers market. You also would likely want places for patrons to sit and enjoy their wares, scenarios where they would shop for meats, fruits, and vegetables, but they also got a pastry and coffee or a nice crepe for breakfast, and want to enjoy them on-site.
A year-round indoor farmers market would not endanger the neighborhood farmers markets. Not everyone would want to come downtown or to another central location. And most neighborhood farmers markets run from June to October, leaving plenty of time for a year-round market to reign alone.
The details might be lengthy: which organization would run it (likely Green City Market), where it would be located, and how it would work. But Chicago needs to start the process. If Toronto, Halifax, Milwaukee, and countless other cities can pull off a year-round indoor market, Chicago can do it. How close are we to making that happen?
Chad Rubel is a Chicago-based writer who covers food and nutrition on his blog, which can be found at balanceoffood.typepad.com.