The Market Watch – A Winter Farmer’s Market Primer

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February 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Robin Schirmer

Editor’s note: We are please to have co-opted the hardest working woman in local markets, Robin “Winter” Schirmer.    Robin calls herself a ”farmers market groupie,” and we are pleased to have her as part of the Local Beet.  Robin has seen lots of farmers markets from all three sides:  as manager/coordinator, as market seller, and as a consumer.  In the past three winter seasons, she has coordinated over 50 one-time, indoor farmers markets in church venues all over the Chicago area.  For the last year, she has worked with Tomato Mountain Farm, boosting their Chicago-area farmers market presence from 6 to over 20 markets last summer, staffing them and selling at most of them at one time or another.  With the Market Watch, she will provide readers of the Local Beet a expert view of our markets.  She’s a great resource for us all.  Feel free to draw upon her knowledge.

winter market 1The Editor has been after me for ages to give a market recap after each of the Winter Farmers Markets  that I coordinate.   With fewer markets to coordinate this year (10 markets down from 29 last season), I can actually take a breath and fill you in.  

For those of you not familiar with these particular markets, let me digress.  The Winter Farmers Markets are the primary project of Churches’ Center for Land and People (CCLP), an interfaith organization centered in Southern Wisconsin that grew out of the farm crisis in the 1980s to assist farmers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.  But specifically, the markets were the brainchild of Tony Ends of Scotch Hill Farm, director of CCLP for the last 6 or 7 years.  Tony is a real visionary; he initiated these markets in all three states to provide venues for small farmers to sell their winter-able produce and value-added farmstead products beyond the growing season.  As a working farmer himself, Tony knows all too well that many farmers depend on off-season, temporary jobs and/or a working spouse to make ends meet.  Starting 6 years ago with just a handful of markets in each state, sometimes with just 3 or 4 vendors, the Winter Farmers Markets grew to become, at least in the Chicago area, a movable feast of markets, usually with 10 to 20 vendors and a wide variety of farm products.

Market_OverviewFrom their start as a means to help small farmers and their rural communities, they have become a welcome and reliable source of off-season produce and farm goods to a loyal and growing following.  The markets are grower/producer-only, but small-batch, artisan foodmakers (bakers, ice cream, etc.) who locally-source at least 25% of their ingredients are also allowed to participate.  In addition, you’ll find a few fair trade items and offerings from other not-for-profits and recyclers .

With Tony’s departure this summer as director of CCLP, the Winter Farmers Markets in the Chicago area have been co-sponsored this season by CCLP and Faith In Place, a Chicago-area interreligious organization working with local faith communities on environmental issues, and took a step back to a more realistic schedule.  That coincided with other markets and venues stepping up to add markets to their schedule, creating a steady patchwork of indoor markets:  Logan Square Farmers Market and Geneva Community Market (weekly), Portage Park Farmers Markets (monthly), Green City Market (bi-monthly), and a handful of churches flying solo with one-time markets.  Check out the Local Calendar for an up-to-date list of these markets.winter market 2

That brings us to the present–and very recent past.  Last Saturday’s market at Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park was a season high in sales for several of the regular vendors.  And the market a few weeks earlier in Old Irving Park was a previous high for some.   That’s what floats my boat, but I’m sure that inquiring minds want to know, What was available?  

  • Grass-fed and grain-fed beef, pastured pork and poultry and eggs (Arnolds Farm);
  • Apples and cider (Hardin Orchard);
  • Grass-fed lamb and wool-stuffed mattress toppers and comforters (Kinkoona Farm);
  • Fresh mushrooms, pickled veggies, sauces, salsas, dips and spreads, and NEW! portabello ravioli and butternut squash ravioli (River Valley Kitchens);
  • Alpaca and wool yarns,  felting kits, and goats’ milk soap (Whimsical Acres);
  • Spa and beauty products made from homegrown herbs (Natural Beauty by Margie);
  • Salsas, preserves, soup, pasta sauce, Bloody Mary mix, and more (Tomato Mountain Farm);
  • Fair trade coffee and chocolate (Equal Exchange)
  • Baguettes, croissants, tarts, sourdough breads, etc. (Bread from the Heart, Fraternite Notre Dame)
  • Butter Mountain multi-colored potatoes, AquaRanch tilapia and basil vinaigrette, Plapp organic whole wheat flour, and more, at a catch-all table hosted by Jacqueline of Bread from the Heart.

This weekend’s market, Saturday, February 20, 9am to 1pm, at United Church of Rogers Park, 1545 W Morse Ave, Chicago 60626, will have most of that and much, much more: 

Several vendors will also have information and signup sheets for their summer CSAs.

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Now, I don’t intend for Market Watch to focus entirely on “my” Winter Farmers Markets, but it seemed as good a place to start as any.  I hope you’ll turn to Market Watch to learn what’s coming to markets and what new markets are coming, and use the comments to let Beet-Land know about a new market you’d like to get on the radar, or to let us know of your own experiences at a market—the good, the bad, and the ugly—but please keep the comments constructive, not destructive.   When you’re tempted to complain (Where’s the fresh lettuce?—in February) remember that there’s someone working behind the scenes to bring you the best market experience possible under the circumstances of our limited growing season.

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One Comment

  1. Renee Manser says:

    Hi Robin,
    We are a local marketer and distributor of 100% Grass fed beef from our families farm in Central Wisconsin. We also carry family raised, pastured chicken and naturally raised pork. We are very interested in continuing our farmers market season through winter and wondered if you can help us out with indoor market info and availability.
    Thank you
    Renee Manser

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