Round-up of the Evanston Farmers Markets, 2011

June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am

Editor’s Intro: In the following piece, Beet contributor Peg Wolfe delves deep into the myriad of Evanston farmer’s markets, and discovers that they’re not all produce. She finds some treasures (including a hidden-away urban farm), and tells us what’s worth visiting for what. -WAA

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Evanston may have only 75,000 residents, but the discerning audience for its farmers markets far exceeds that population. You never know whom you might see there, either – two Saturdays ago, acclaimed author Michael Pollan was spotted cheerfully chatting with various vendors. As the years have gone by, additional satellite markets have been added to meet the growing demand of Chicago-area cooks and food-lovers. Here is what the city has to offer for 2011:

Evanston Downtown, Intersection of University Place and East Railroad Ave.
Saturday, 7:30AM – 1:00PM

The big daddy of the Evanston markets. The Saturday morning downtown market has been in existence since the mid-70’s, and boasts a select line-up of 35-plus vendors from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A long-time favorite haunt of local chefs, and it is easy to see why – an entire menu can easily be written on the fly here, right down to artisan breads from Great Harvest Bakery and beautiful fresh cut flowers for the table from several vendors.

Here is a selection of some of the standout vendors, and what they have to offer:

- Henry’s Farm/Brockman’s (IL): strictly organic vegetables, herbs, handmade herbal soaps, fruit and jams, and vegetable plants in season. A market fixture, Terra Brockman also is a writer, and produces a remarkable weekly newsletter about the inner workings of the farm. The Evanston Downtown market is the only market they do, though they do have a CSA available. Don’t miss the Wall of Lettuce!

- Green Acres (IN): another organic vendor, Green Acres specializes in unusual heirloom vegetables and fruits, especially tomatoes and chiles in season. The farm cultivates 500 different varieties of plants, so if you don’t see what you need, just ask – they probably have it. Eggs and wild mushrooms are available, as well.

- Nichols Farm & Orchard (IL): Another big long-time vendor, Nichols now grows 1000 varieties of fruits and vegetables, and features a staggering array of potatoes, apples, onions, and strawberries in season. Outstanding source for unusual plant starts in spring, and herbs all during the year. A chef favorite.

- Heartland Meats (IL): An unusually hands-on operation, Heartland not only raises their Piedmontese cattle, but also runs their own processing plant. Very high-quality yet exceptionally lean beef, a breed trait.

- Elko’s Produce (WI): One of the original vendors, dating to the mid-70s, Elko sells Wisconsin cheeses, plants of all kinds, vegetables, and eggs. A good bet for unusual cheeses – like goat mozzarella.

- Seedling (MI): a well-regarded fruit seller among area chefs, Seedlings carries unusual items in season, such as donut peaches and wild strawberries, and single-variety apple cider in fall.

- Stover’s (MI): something for everyone: cut flowers in season, vegetables, and fresh fruit, as well as an enormous variety of dried Michigan fruit, jams, jellies, and unusual salsas and other preparations, as well as fresh fruit pies. A must-visit in sour cherry season, as they sell buckets of pitted sour cherries (a bargain at twice the price for jam/pie makers).

- Kinnikinnick Farms (IL): Top quality organic vegetables, unusual cut flowers, herbs of all kinds – and eggs, if you get there early. Another long-time fixture of the Evanston Downtown market.

- Pleasant Prairie Farms (WI): a true niche vendor, Pleasant Prairie sells nothing but top-quality cut flowers. A unique feature: they will custom-make bouquets on the spot.

As noted, there are over 35 farmers and vendors of all kinds to explore, so allow plenty of time. A multi-level parking garage is adjacent to the market, a great improvement over the problematic parking in its early days, so be ready to do a lot of shopping.

West End, Intersection of Church St. and Dodge Ave. (Evanston Township HS parking lot)
Saturday, 8:30AM – 3:00PM

A small but intriguing market on Evanston’s west side, across the street from Evanston’s gargantuan public high school. Among the booths selling jewelry, food, and such, there is but one produce vendor, but this vendor is unique and special, as all of the produce is grown locally – extremely locally. As in, on the north side of Church St., right across the street from the market, in the back of the Boocoo Cultural Center & Café, an eclectic community center ( run by the Evanston Community Development Corporation. Not at all visible from the street, this “farm” is comprised of a large hoop house, containing all manner of fruits, flowers and vegetables, raised beds with herbs and greens, and a city lot, which is rapidly becoming a thriving field of sweet corn. There is also a large vermiculture (in English – worm farm) compost bin, which uses the food scraps from the Boocoo café – and since they are able to literally walk the produce across the street, the operation has a virtual zero carbon footprint, and is completely sustainable and organic. The proprietor of this local marvel is Cozeake Nelson, an entrepreneurship coach and “Second Chance Supervisor” with the ECDC; he is ably assisted by Bill Collingwood. Well worth a visit – the idea alone of buying Evanston-grown sweet corn on the day that it is picked is intoxicating.

Ridgeville (South Evanston), Intersection of Ridge Ave. and South Blvd.
Wednesday, 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM

This market is a small outpost of vendors in a large urban meadow, right on Ridge Avenue, just north of St. Francis Hospital. One interesting quirk is its specific location, which changes mid-season from the street side of the meadow to the back sports courts, as the Ridgeville Park District, which controls the acreage, uses the grassy fields for children’s activities during midsummer. At this writing, the current vendors include Lyon’s Fruit Farm of South Haven, MI, also a large presence at the downtown market; KAP Farms, a downstate IL vegetable producer; Katz Cookies, an Evanston bakeshop; and SongBird Coffee Roasters of Rogers Park. The location of the market is convenient, though parking can be a bit challenging.

Central St. Green Market, Independence Park, intersection of Central St. and Stewart St. (two blocks west of Green Bay Rd.)
Wednesday, 3:00PM – 7:00 PM

The newest of the five markets, the Central St. Green Market is in its first year, and features all natural/organic growers and makers. The market is the brainchild of the owners/operators of Lake Breeze Organics, another Evanston Downtown market seller and producer of a wide variety of organic vegetables, fruits, and nuts. They have organized a small but solid group of fellow vendors, including:

- a meat purveyor (Trail’s End Farm, selling grass-fed beef and pastured poultry)

- a natural baby food maker (Foodie Baby)

- an ultra premium ice cream maker/seller (Snookelfritz)

- Two bakers – “Crust & Crumb,” featuring baker Dennis Clarkson’s local wild yeast artisan bread, and “Baking Beauty,” which concentrates on sweet breads, cookies, and muffins using natural ingredients and organic fruit.

The location of the market is perfect for the downtown commuter, as it is a short walk from the Central St. Metra station, and is served by CTA buses. It also boasts the advantage of having a city parking lot right across the street, a luxury not usually available to most farmers markets. Its nearby neighbors include the Spice House, FoodStuffs, and the recently opened Old Town Oils, a seller of high-end olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars.

McGaw YMCA (Downtown), 1000 Grove St. (at Maple)
Wednesday, 9:30AM – 2:00PM

The smallest of the markets, and the latest to start up (6/22). The sole current vendor is Michigan-based 1st Orchards & Greenhouses (also a long-time fixture at the Evanston Downtown market), which carries a nice seasonal variety of produce and plants, including hot-house tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, basil, rosemary. Also available: fresh eggs.