Chicago’s Many Farmers’ Markets Help You Eat Like a Locavore
Farmers’ markets can be irresistible, with the lure of fresh-picked sweet corn, green peppers, ripe red tomatoes and green beans to sort through on a summer day. However, that shopping experience has become more than buying food. It’s become a way to meet your neighbors, says Veronica Resa, spokeswoman for the Chicago Farmers Markets.
“The farmers’ markets are very popular because they’re more than just a marketplace,” Resa says. “It’s a link to the community where you can see your neighbors, and buy great locally grown fresh food.”
Chicago has 24 city-run farmers’ markets that operate on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. They typically open at 7 a.m. and sell out of produce within a few hours, since many customers stop by on their way to work.
“Farmers’ markets in Chicago are 200 years old, says Resa, who has overseen the program for the past six years. “Some are historic. Some are more recent.”
Her challenge, as land prices near the city of Chicago escalate, is to find enough farmers to supply produce.
“Farming is a calling, a way of life,” Resa explains. “We have stabilized the supply of produce for our markets, but it will be difficult to grow them. Farmers are leaving because the price of land is so valuable.”
She has reached out to farming operations in neighboring states – Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin as well as Illinois.
“You need 10 farmers for one market,” she adds. “Sometimes, that’s very hard to find.”
The city requires that 80 percent of what is sold by a farmer is produced on their farm.
The farmers’ market on Daley Plaza is one of the biggest in Chicago. Another is located at the Sears Tower, and there are four markets downtown with the others in Chicago neighborhoods.
“We’re not sure who actually shops at our farmers markets – we’ve never studied zip codes,” said Resa. “We know they aren’t the answer to food deserts – areas where there aren’t supermarkets, but they do play a role.”
Popular items include sweet corn, fresh pretzels from the “bread guy” from Labriola Breads, and egg noodles and “whoopee pies” from the Amish.
Country Financial is one of the sponsors of the Chicago Farmers Markets.
“Our roots lie in agriculture, so this is a perfect fit for us,” says Chris Anderson, media relations coordinator for Country Financial. “Each has a different culture and flavor.”
Last year, Country Financial developed a contest for a logo to be printed on the bag and drew nearly 80 entries. They gave away 3,000 of the student-designed canvas bags and 5,000 green canvas bags to customers.
The company also sponsors a Chef Challenge at Daley Plaza where three chefs have 30 minutes to choose produce from the farmers’ market, and 30 minutes to prepare a dish on site for a panel of judges.
“We’re happy to see these farmers’ markets are not only helping people eat healthy but are also turning into social events,” said Anderson. “It’s pretty neat to see.”
Chicago-Area Farmer’s Markets
Willis Tower Plaza
Museum of Contemporary Art/Streeterville
Printer’s Row Park
Southport Green Market
Wicker Park & Bucktown
Independently Run Farmers’ Markets
Bronzeville Community Market
Chicago French Market
City Farm Heirloom
Glenwood Sunday Market
Green City Market
Pilsen Community Market
Rowen Trees Farmers Market
Maxwell Street Market
Forest Park French Market
Lisle French Market
Mokena French Market
Wilmette French Market
Elk Grove Village