The Big City Blog: Sunshine, fresh food and community vibes at farmers’ markets keep summer alive in Chicago
By Kelly Cunningham
The start of August always brings mixed emotions for me — on the one hand, it’s still summer, but it is also the last month before school starts, before leaves begin to turn, and before being outside in Chicago means bundling up and bracing for the cold. While things do start to slow down as August comes to a close, there are places where summertime fun is alive and well, like the city’s array of farmers’ markets.
My roommate and I set out around 11 a.m. last Wednesday, excited to get out of the house and enjoy some sunshine. We arrived at the Lincoln Park farmers’ market near the zoo and were immediately overtaken by the sense of community. Aside from the stands selling all sorts of sprouts, vegetables and fruit, there were also stands for savory crepes, carts selling steaming-hot tamales, and children gathered around an older gentleman playing Simon & Garfunkel tunes. We walked a little further into the conglomeration of stands, stopping for samples of habanero strawberry jam and spoonfulls of locally sourced honey — and even came across a duo creating balloon animals.
I stopped at one stand specializing in herbs and flowers to buy a bundle of fresh lavender for our third roommate, who was stuck inside at work. Then we set back through the rows of stands to figure out what produce we wanted to take home. One stand, maybe the largest in the market, caught my attention with its purple bell peppers and array of different potatoes. The produce that caught my attention was from Nichols Farms, who proudly displayed a logo that read, “Variety is our Specialty,” which was evident in their selection.
Aside from the stands selling all sorts of sprouts, vegetables and fruit, there were also stands for savory crepes, carts selling steaming-hot tamales, and children gathered around an older gentleman playing Simon & Garfunkel tunes.
I talked to a long-time employee of the farm who told me the history of the couple that started the farm. Lloyd and Darlene purchased 10 acres of land in Marengo, Ill. in 1978 with the goal of being self-sustaining. They quickly realized they had an abundance of crops and began selling their produce, recruiting more help and buying land when it became available.
My conversation with the man running the farm stand was briefly interrupted by a regular customer. They chatted about their wives and kids for a moment before parting with a hug and a “It’s always great to see you out here.” I shook hands with the guy before I left with a bag of the purple peppers that had originally caught my eye.
Prior to this experience in Lincoln Park, I had never been to a farmers’ market in the city before, and I was surprised by how relaxed and welcoming everything was. Supporting small businesses and participating in local events served as a rare glimpse into the everyday connections that make parts of the city feel like real neighborhoods and not just the outskirts of an iconic skyline.
The Lincoln Park farmers’ market is open every Sunday and Wednesday from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. It’s located near the Clark and Armitage intersection. For more information on Chicago’s collection of farmer’s markets, click HERE.