Everything But the Farmer’s – Sunday’s in the Park

June 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Portage Park and Independence Park Farmer’s Markets

Unlike a lot of cities of comparable size, Chicago does not have much in the way of “squares”.  About the only examples I can think of, not including any of the concrete plazas in the Loop, of what I’m talking about, are the one across from the Newberry Library (a/k/a Bughouse Square) and Palmer Square.  Places open and within the surrounding streets.  Now, Chicago has hundreds of urban parks, many remarkably grand.  Yet, a defining feature of Chicago parks seems (to me) how they are cut off, fenced from, Chicago streets.  In many cases, this is a good thing.  You can escape in Chicago parks.  And in at least two Chicago parks, you can escape away every other Sunday to find what is called a farmer’s market.  Question is, will you find farmer at the market?

portage park 1portage park 2

In recent Sundays I visited the farmer’s market at Portage Park and then the one at Independence Park. Of the two, Portage had a much more interesting fieldhouse. The kind of place one would still work out with Indian clubs.

portage dog

Both markets are dog friendly (very).

portage music

Both markets had music. Given that I’m spoiled by the bluegrass-ish players in Oak Park, I much more enjoyed the Buck Owens sound in Portage Park to the acoustic players in Independence Park.

local baklava

Both markets had a dearth of farmers. Listen, I’m no farmer’s market purist. I think there’s a place for food artisans at farmer’s markets.  I’ve sampled enough product from Sheekar Delight, at Portage, to know it’s good stuff.  And I’ve sampled so much Phoenix Tofu,  at Independence, product that I’m afraid they’ll cut me off.  Phoenix is not only delicious but made from non-GMO, organic, Illinois grown soy.  A triple threat.  Portage and Independence each had a woman running a cottage food approved jam business.  I only tried Aunt Jeanne’s at Portage, but I’m rather enjoying the sour cherry I brought home. I’m not complaining about what’s there.  It’s what’s not there.

faith farm - portage

Of the twenty or so vendors at these markets, I’ve counted four farms.  Both markets had River Valley Ranch, Geneva Lakes, and Tomato Mountain Organic* from Wisconsin. Each market had it’s local meat person. Portage had Faith’s Farm; Independence had Otter Creek. I have a lot more experience with the former, and I can vouch highly for them. That was it.

independence park - onions (Georgia)

We all draw our lines differently. I like Geneva Lakes. They showed up each week to the Evanston winter market bringing an array of storage crops and hoop house lettuces. Their pre-season cucumbers I get in Oak Park are surprisingly good. I also appreciate that they clearly marked their non-local produce sold at Independence Park. I’m not buying it though. I asked them yesterday, how could they have so much at Oak Park on Saturday and so little at Independence Park on Sunday. Essentially, they harvested for the weekend and what was there on Sunday was what was left from the five markets they do on Saturday–or what more strict markets won’t allow.

Chicago has some outstanding city parks. Within some of these parks you may find what they call farmer’s markets. You’ll find at these markets organic rubs, kid made snickerdoodles, crepes flipped in front of you like you’re in Paris, dog treats, whoopie pies and an assortment of other products some very good a few not so. What you’ll not find enough is (enough) farmers. I like all farmer’s markets but the ones I like more are the ones with more farmers.

The Portage Park Farmer’s Market meets June 2, 16, 30; July 21; Aug, 4, 18; Sept, 15, 29; and Oct 6.
The market is held near the corner of Berteau and Central in Portage Park from 10am to 2pm.

The Independence Park Farmer’s Market meets June 9, 23; July 14, 28; Aug, 11, 25; Sept, 8, 22; and Oct 13, 27.  The market is held on Irving Park near Hamlin.

*My wife works for Tomato Mountain, a vendor at both markets.