Farmers market bursts with authentic freshness
Zucchini squash and green beans are flourishing mid-summer at the Oak Park Farmers' Market. | for Sun-Times Media
The Oak Park Farmers’ Market
When: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through October.
Where: in a parking lot at 460 Lake St.
Special events include:
• the annual Farmers’ Market Corn Roast on Aug. 18
• Stone Soup season closing event on Oct. 27
Updated: September 3, 2012 1:09PM
OAK PARK — Midway through the season, the Oak Park Farmers’ Market is in full bloom.
The market, which draws about 3,000 visitors weekly, is known as one of the best of its kind in the Chicago area. That’s no fluke. In addition to Michigan cherries, Illinois sweet corn and Wisconsin summer butter, the market offers a high standard of quality enforced by four part-time village staff people and an 11-member volunteer village commission.
“What’s neat about this market is that it’s a true, pure farmers market. If products come in a jar, forget it,” said Commissioner Aly Schoenfeldt. “It’s a great asset to the community. It gives us fresh, local food from a five-state region and it helps farmers. Plus, you can meet the guy who grew your food and talk to him about it.”
The market, first opened in 1976, is limited to 26 vendors by space available where it’s held each Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. in a parking lot at 460 Lake St. The bulk of the vendors bring a glorious abundance of produce that, mid-summer, includes peaches, zucchini, chard, kale, mushrooms, blueberries, cabbage and beets, as well as salsas, jams and other specialities made from locally grown fruits and vegetables.
There are also two meat, two bread, two flower and honey and cheese vendors, said Farmers’ Market Manager Jessica Rinks.
“People are really excited about our products. They develop relationships with the vendors and know them by name. They know who they’re going to visit first,” she said.
Vendor Jim Vitalo, owner of Herbally Yours infused vinegars in Willow Springs, Ill., has commuted to the market for 26 years and currently serves as its Growers’ Liaison to the village.
“This is the best farmers market (near) the city of Chicago. We’re inspected, we have to grow everything and we have a very loyal clientele. The management is wonderful and the health department is wonderful, because they’re strict,” Vitalo said, citing a problem in some other Chicago areas with what he called “fake farmers markets,” where vendors resell non-locally grown foods. That’s not the case in Oak Park, where village staff go so far as to pay occasional visits to vendors’ farms to ensure they walk their talk and are using sustainable practices.
Not only does Vitalo praise the market’s management, he’s also done well doing business there.
“This market paid for my daughter’s high school, college and grad school to become a special ed teacher,” he said.
Volunteer commissioner Frank Pond also attests to the market’s high standards and ties them directly to its standing as a village commission.
“We don’t have arbitrary rules, which keeps our market pure,” Pond said. “For any change we have to go to the village,” resulting in consistency in governance and decision-making processes.”
While many aspects of the market haven’t varied over time, one positive change two years ago was adding the ability to take credit cards and accept Link food assistance program cards, manager Rinks said.
Through a grant-funded program, users of state Link Cards are able to receive matching coupons on the amount of fresh produce they buy, up to $20 weekly. This enables cash-strapped families to take home twice as much nutritious food.
During her first season as its manager, Rinks said she doesn’t aim to change the market but rather uphold its tradition.
“I knew I would enjoy this job but I love it,” she said. “I always looked forward to shopping at this market; it’s such a fun event. I’m glad to now be a part of the team that’s making it happen.”