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.”
Her challenge, as with farmers markets throughout the United States, 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.”
Markets typically require a certain percentage of a farmers’ products to be produced on their farm – 80% in the case of Chicago’s markets.
Asking questions of the farmers who sell their products is a tip for farmers market shoppers wanting to eat locally. The vendors can often provide recipes and insight on how to cook with the foods shoppers are buying.
These local shoppers cover a wide demographic of people – men and women, young and old, and a wide range of incomes, too.
“We’re not sure who actually shops at our farmers markets – we’ve never studied zip codes,” says Resa. “We know they aren’t the answer to food deserts – areas where there aren’t supermarkets – but they do play a role.”
Resa says popular items at her markets in Chicago include sweet corn, fresh pretzels from the “bread guy” from Labriola Breads, and egg noodles and “whoopee pies” from the Amish. What’s your favorite local food item at your farmers market? Let us know in the comments.