by Lisa Lozano
We’re excited to roll out a brand-new feature today. Every Friday, we’ll let you know what is fresh and in season in a different part of the U.S. by spotlighting a unique regional farmers market.
This week we’re shining a light on the oldest farmers market in Illinois — Aurora’s Farmers Market, which takes place in Illinois’ second-largest city. This Saturday marks the Market Preview opening weekend, and manager Dale Hazlewood spoke with us about what is special about his market, which he calls “20 weekly festivals throughout the season.” Read on for our Q&A.
Lisa Lozano: What sets your market apart?
Dale Hazlewood: First of all, we’re the oldest in the state of Illinois. We started in 1912 by city ordinance and we’re still going strong 103 seasons later. And we’re one of the largest markets, usually we have about 70 vendor booths, and that includes not only produce but also a mix of great bakeries, cheese, coffee, olive oil and, new this year, we have an actual mobile meat market. The meat is all fresh, you look in the window, pick out your cut, the butcher slices it, wraps it, and you can take it home to grill right then.
LL: What’s in season right now in your area?
DH: Our market is a little unique in that we have about eight produce vendors that are all local or from the region. Two of those vendors, their ancestors have been with the market since it started in 1912. Right now, they’re gonna have asparagus, lettuce, onions, possibly some leeks, rhubarb, radishes will probably be on the plate, and lots of greens, because it’s been kind of a cold spring here in northern Illinois.
LL: How should people shop at a farmers market?
DH: We’re trying to get people to understand that, instead of going to the market with a recipe and looking for all those ingredients, create that recipe while you’re at the market. Like, these specialty bratwurst look delicious, and there’s some new potatoes available, and some asparagus, and some great artisanal cheese. So we’re trying to get people to change that habit that was created back in the ‘50s when all the big supermarket chains came out.
LL: What is the biggest benefit of shopping at your local farmers market?
DH: A lot of people talk about it but they don’t really understand how shopping local benefits them in ways they can’t see. Shopping local cuts down on transportation costs and pollution, and shopping local helps the local economy. These farms are local, they’re hiring local people, so all those dollars are circulating in the local economy. And if you shop at a big box store, none of that’s local. All those profits are going far, far away.
Dale shares that the market has a powerful impact on the community that goes beyond selling nutritious local food. This year they are participating in a program that will provide “fruit and vegetable prescriptions” to local school kids and seniors, and are also doubling food stamp funds to purchase market products. So for every $25 in food stamp funds spent, the recipient gets another $25 to spend at the market. Additionally, the market gives away free tomato plants to kids at its annual Tomato Day which coincides with the Market Preview this Saturday.
Do you shop at your local farmers market? Tell us about it in the comments.