It’s no secret, I’ve been waiting for the opening of the 61st Street Farmers Market here in Chicago since it closed last December. Mostly because last years market wasn’t as great as it could have been because of the wonky weather all across the country. I’m not sure how I started going to Farmers Markets, but I know that this particular one caught my eye during the very long Saturday cello lessons that the cellist had in a local building. Ever since then, I happily travel from one side of the city to another, just to enjoy the fresh produce, and camaraderie that I find each and every Saturday on this stretch of the street.
I know that when I first started attending the market, I was completely overwhelmed with all of the colors, and smells, and tastes that accompany the market. However, once you go several Saturdays in a row, the local farmers already know what you like and are ready for you! My staples include honey from Ellis Farms in Benton Harbor, MI and any and all vegetables from Growing Power, which is located in Milwaukee, WI.
One of the greatest things that I’ve noticed about the 61st Street Farmers Market is the fact that they encourage those market goers who receive SNAP benefits to come through and purchase with a match of up to $25 market dollars each Saturday. Essentially, they are trying to encourage more fresh fruit and vegetable buying for Link card carriers. I love it since so many people who are using food stamps get a bad rep for only buying processed foods. This allows all cardholders to stretch their dollars beyond what they thought they could. An even better thing is the fact that the market dollars don’t have to all be used that day, but can be saved and used on any Saturday throughout the market season.
Other Farmers Markets may also take WIC coupons and subsidized food vouchers as well. I don’t think that the 61st Street market does, but I will make sure to check and report back for those in the city of Chicago. If you are unsure about your local market, find a volunteer and ask. Honestly, that’s what they are there for, and being knowledgeable allows you to make the most of your money. How can you pass up tomatoes that look this good? Seriously? Salads, fried green tomatoes, pasta sauce, I could go on. And this honey. The market vendor that comes through with Ellis Farms has informed me that he won’t be with the 61st Street Market after this month, and will be moving to the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. Looks like I’ll have to visit two markets each Saturday! Seriously, that’s how vested I am in the local Farmers’ Markets. It’s not just about supporting a local farm for me anymore. It’s about the friendships that have been formed, and the extension of family.
I’m reminded of the vendor who passed away in the summer of 2011, and how sad I felt. I don’t think that we really had many words except for her sharing recipes with me every now and again. I recall trying one (a strawberry rhubarb preserve) that I wanted to share with her, and didn’t realize that she had passed away. It’s just further proof that life is fleeting and that we should definitely live IN the moments that we have instead of living them after they happen.
Okay, so this post was not supposed to get all sobby, but it’s my roundabout way of telling you to get out and support your local Farmers Markets. I’m sure that you can do a google search of ones in your city, or in cities close to you, and know that you are helping farmers and their families with their livelihoods as well as providing YOUR family with fresh produce and meat. It’s all a great cycle that is actually GOOD to be a part of. Keeping your local farmers in business means that the food that you are purchasing at these Farmers Markets haven’t been sitting around for days or weeks being prepped to sell.
Do you shop at Farmers Markets? How often? Share your greatest find in the comments below!