Four Chicago farmers markets are extending their outdoor seasons this fall as the pandemic continues to impact farmers and small businesses, as well as consumers.
The farmer’s market season typically ends in October, with the city’s many markets closing as the weather gets colder.
This year, however, The Lincoln Park Farmers Market, the 61st St. Famers Market, Green City Market Lincoln Park and the Lincoln Square Farmers Market have all added dates to their outdoor seasons through the end of November.
Last year, both the Lincoln Park Farmers Market and the Lincoln Square Farmers Market extended their seasons after starting late due to COVID-19 concerns, allowing vendors to recoup some of the lost business from the delay. The November dates were a success and will continue this year, organizers said.
“With the pandemic, we have seen people being very concerned about being able to support themselves,” said Elsa Jacobson, market manager for several farmers markets, including Lincoln Square and Lincoln Park. Vendors are eager to participate, she says. “I have a farmer at Lincoln Square, who asked if we were definitely going to extend, and could he participate in the extension … he said he was going to plant some more greens or lettuce or something as a late season craft so that he could continue.”
Green City Market, whose Lincoln Park location is offering November dates, sees extending their season as an opportunity for the nonprofit to provide for users of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP benefits recently expanded, impacting thousands of Cook County users. “Our outdoor market is a critical component of Green City Market’s food access programs,” said executive director Mandy Moody. “This year, we’ve welcomed and doubled the purchasing power of more customers using Link [card] benefits than ever before. (The Link card is used to access SNAP benefits.) The ability to process Link [card] transactions online is still reserved for a few big box retailers and so a physical market location is so important to ensuring we nourish our neighbors.”
In addition to a spring to fall outdoor market, the 61st Street Farmers Market, which is held on Blackstone Avenue on Saturdays, holds an indoor winter market. That normally begins in November, but this year, they’re staying outside a month longer in the interest of safety. The decision came back in September, due to uncertainty around the Delta variant. “I did not take the decision of whether to move indoors or not lightly,” said Emily Cross, farmers market manager at Experimental Station. “I wanted to make sure we were keeping our community safe.”
During the regular season, some market visitors were able to get vaccines along with their flowers and fresh produce. The 61st Street Farmers Market and the Lincoln Park Farmers Market both hosted onsite vaccination events in partnership with InstaVaxx beginning earlier this fall and were met with enthusiasm. “I thought if we get one body in a seat, I was gonna jump for joy,” said Jacobson. “And we did so much better than that, that they kept coming back.” The 61st Street Market would like to continue to provide the service, Cross says, noting that the South Side community the market serves wants the option to be available to them. Due to staffing issues at InstaVaxx, however, there are no current plans at either market to hold future vaccination events.
Still, the extended season has been successful so far, with the first week bringing an encouraging showing. Despite the challenges of the transition period, Cross was satisfied with the first November outdoor market. “We had a good showing, all things considered,” Cross said, adding that their 16 vendors “did well, and were happy to be outside.”
For certain vendors, said Jacobson, the later season is an asset. With items like candles, wreaths, and honey, “there is that seasonality side to stuff,” she says. “They might have steady sales, but the sales certainly are better when the weather is a little cooler.” And while the markets may have been smaller, she says they did not lack for quality. “We had a full, beautiful, wonderful range of stuff.”
Even after the November dates wrap, the markets will serve their communities in other ways.
Green City Market, which relies on community donations, is continuing its online delivery service, GCM Delivered, to deliver market goods directly to homes throughout the winter. In December, the group hopes to debut a “GCM Curbside in the Community” pick-up location at the North Side’s Swedish Covenant Hospital. “This pick up point will allow Green City Market to continue its work of supporting folks facing food insecurity,” says Moody.
Meanwhile, 61st Farmers Market will begin its indoor market, revamped into a hybrid indoor/outdoor operation to better accommodate social distancing, on December 4. Most vendors will be indoors at Experimental Station, and some will be lining Blackstone Ave. Visitors can expect the usual fare, says Cross – “local produce, meat, cheese, eggs, honey, bread, baked goods, vegan items, ready-to-eat food, and more” – and once air purification systems are put in place, the Market will host chef tastings and other special events.
In the meantime, these markets will be open will be open no matter what.
“If the weather’s not nice, we’re still gonna be there,” said Jacobson. “We’re on rain or shine or snow or sleet or hail or whatever it is.”
Lincoln Square Farmers Market is open Tuesdays, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. through Nov. 23.
Lincoln Park Farmers Market is open Saturdays, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. through Nov. 20.
Green City Market Lincoln Park is open Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. through Nov. 20.
61st Street Farmers Market’s outdoor market is open Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. until Nov. 20. Their hybrid indoor market will run Dec. 4, 11, and 18 from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. Dates for 2022 can be found at https://experimentalstation.org/market.
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