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Fresh to Market

Lauren Linhard & Allie Howard

  Almost every day of the week, city-dwellers can find a little taste of country among the busy streets of Chicago at one of the many farmers’ markets. With fresh fruits, local produce, and delectable baked goods, these markets offer high quality selections at reasonable prices.
  As newcomers to Chicago’s farmers’ markets,  we set out to learn the ins-and-outs of this cultural experience. By visiting several markets, we came to learn that every market has its own story, as do the people who work there.
   We started with the Willis Tower Plaza Farmer’s Market. Everything from pizza to chocolate croissants to juicy fresh fruits can be found below the famous landmark, including Paul Friday’s Flamin’ Fury Peaches from nearby Michigan.
   The Willis Tower Market caters to those with a sweet tooth, though Katherine Anne Confections brings an entirely new twist to the world of chocolate truffles. Here you can find flavors of cherry, blueberry, java, caramel, and citrus mixed with the traditional milk or dark chocolate. “Depending where the citrus truffle hits your palate first,” said assistant Maureen Foody, “you can taste lime, orange, or chocolate.” To create these intense flavors, Katherine Anne Confections uses local and organic ingredients.
   However, more than food can be found at this market. Shirlnise Blanchard and Vicqui Washington tell the story of inspiration behind their products. The Enterprising Kitchen, a non-profit group that raises funds to provide underprivileged women with support services, sells handmade soaps, lotions, and candles. The women participating in the program make the products that are sold at the market, with all profits going back into the foundation. By purchasing their lavender, tea tree, lemon sage, white chocolate or other scented products, you are helping disadvantaged women become self-sufficient.
   Our journey continued with the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. Open every Wednesday and Saturday, this market includes produce from the area as well as samples from local restaurants. While shopping for fresh veggies, fruits, eggs, and meat, you can also enjoy burgers from Sunday Dinner, desserts from Hossier Mamma, and lunch from Zullo’s. The park provides shaded
picnic tables to enjoy your fare.
   One of the greener lunch choices can be found at the Tiny Green Kitchen which offers vegetarian sandwiches and wraps as well as fresh tofu. They also sell herbs such as basil, cilantro, rosemary, and chives. All of their herbs and vegetables are grown using eco-friendly methods. Certified by the Global Organic Alliance, the company owns six different buildings that use solar-electric and wind energy systems.
   A rather unusual addition at this particular market is the tent housing Sharpening by Dave. A new vendor at Green City Market, David Nells is an artisan skilled in the craft of knife sharpening. From lawnmower blades to kitchen knives, Nells can sharpen your tools on the spot. Nells also offers watch repair, battery installation and band adjustments.
   Just a few blocks from the Gold Coast, we walked to the Division Street Market. Clearly a dog-friendly environment, owners shopped with their pets up and down the two blocks of vendors. Though this market includes all the basics, they featured a large number of flower tents with  Oriental Lilies, Giant Sunflowers, and Mini Glads.
   You’ll also find beautiful candles, handmade from local honey and wax. Using molds and her own ingredients, Darlene Kress creates her candles from her own bee farm. She has also developed her own soaps and hand creams. “I helped my Grandpa with his bees,” said Kress. “My husband did the same. We decided to get some bees for our garden and our business grew from there.” Her husband collects and makes the jars of honey as well as different honey-flavored straws.
  Another family business at Division Street Market, Rock’n Roll Noodle Company, makes “authentic ethnic gourmet food with an attitude.” The brainchild of Anna Abby, the company uses all organic and sustainable ingredients to create seasonal delicious dishes like Vegetable Pad Thai, Vegetarian Spring Rolls, and Basil Chicken Noodle. Look for Anna’s daughters— Sophia, Lena, Cali, and Alex—running the stand.
   All of these markets are unique in their own way; however, they all share one factor: they are located outdoors in the scorching summer heat. If you are looking for air-conditioned comfort, then the Chicago French Market is the place for you.
   Fresh and local meats and seafood are provided in abundance at the Chicago French Market. Fumare Meats offers cured and smoked meats from local sources. They also sell sandwiches if you are shopping at lunch time. Another vendor, City Fresh Market, also has a large selection of seafood and meats. You can also find fresh fruits, vegetables, juices, and other foods.
   A mong the fresh, organic, and local offerings at this market is RAW, a vegan-themed lunch spot dedicated to “raising awareness worldwide.” Though only located in the Chicago French Market, RAW is focused on teaching the public about healthy eating and nutritional benefits of organic raw vegan food through health awareness classes. There are also handmade baskets on sale to support The Blessing Basket Project, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports artisans from poor developing countries. The weavers receive Prosperity Wages®—significantly higher than normal—which help them feed their families and create other entrepreneurial activities, lifting them out of poverty.
   Our farmer’s market experience continued with the Museum of Contemporary Art Market. This is really the market for fresh berries, including cherries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
Berries from Lehman’s Orchard, Nichols Farm and Orchard, and Ellis Farm can all be found in one place every Tuesday morning. This market is also the perfect place to go with the family. A fun and interactive environment, the event includes a “Summer Creation Station” with museum representatives guiding children’s activities. Each week, the museum offers a different hands-on art experience focused around a specific theme. From floating to flying, flat to form, or mechanics, families can create and bring home their own work of art.
Our final adventure took us to the Andersonville Farmer’s Market. This area of the city exudes  small town charm. The market embodies a combination of the old and the new, with contrasts of vintage clothing and vegan food. Traditional American music plays in the square as you browse.
   Kombucha, a fermented tea used for medicinal purposes, is not usually found at your common farmer’s market, but here you can try samples and purchase jugs from the Nessalla dealer. Tomato Mountain, traveling all the way from Brooklyn, Wisconsin, specializes in homemade salsa, preserves, soups, sauces, and other products in jars. The Breadman Baking Company came in from Naperville to sell their healthy all-natural breads and baked goods.
   Another unique aspect of this market is the spotlight booth featuring different shops in Andersonville. We visited Mr. and Mrs. Digz, a clothing store located just a few blocks north, which had a wide selection of vintage clothing and jewelry. You can find new, gently used, and designer vintage such as Gucci, Chanel, and Ferragamo from the 20s to present day. Owner Emilia Dluglecka also showcases candles, home goods, furniture, and the diverse work of 20 local artists.
   There’s more to each market than the edibles they have to offer. Take some time and talk to the vendors. Ask them about what they are selling, learn their stories. Most of these markets continue into the fall, so you have plenty of time to create your own farmer’s market experience.

Tips and Tricks forNavigating Your Local Farmer’s Market

• Go Early or Go Late. For the best selection, get there early.  Popular-but-limited items may sell out before the day is over. Late in the day, farmers and other vendors usually prefer to discount products instead of loading them back up and bringing  them home.

• Bring Small Bills and Change. Purchases will go easier and faster if you have exact change. Larger urban areas tend to sell products in dollar or fifty-cent increments.

• Come Prepared. If you tend to buy alot, consider bringing a wheeled cart or wagon to get your farmers market goods home in one trip. The next best thing is a backpack.

• Ask Questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about
unfamiliar produce or the best way to prepare something. You might just  find a new favorite food or ingredient.

• Educate Yourself. Take some time before you go to the market to learn about what foods and produce are in season. Some markets will have information booths where you can get a crop calendar listing.

• Go with an Open Mind. Be open to try something new. The farmer’s market provides many interesting items you won’t find at the grocery store.

   To find out more about farmers markets in your neighborhood go to www.chicagofarmersmarkets.us

Published: August 08, 2010
Issue: Fall 2010 Issue