Most people visit their local farmers’ market because of its locally grown, reasonably priced and easily accessible produce. But patrons in Illinois are seeing interesting additions to the handmade wooden stalls and colorful bouquets of fruits and vegetables.
Illinois is home to more than 300 registered farmers’ markets throughout the state and is a national leader in community-supported agriculture. Kristi Jones, manager of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Illinois Products Farmers’ Market in Springfield, believes the growing popularity of these markets comes from both growers and consumers.
“My mother used to challenge me to shop the perimeter of the grocery store whenever I went since that is where the freshest and most healthy food is,” Jones says. “The great thing about a farmers market is that fresh and healthy food is everywhere. There are items you wouldn’t see at the grocery store and that dares the buyer to learn more about the product, Illinois farmers and agriculture.”
Jones has transformed the 366-acre state fairgrounds into an evening destination. When consumers visit the evening market, they can eat a dinner prepared by the Illinois Beef Association, buy wine from Illinois wineries, view cooking demonstrations with produce from the growers, participate in health and wellness demos, and have their gardening, pest and lawn care questions answered by the University of Illinois master gardeners, as well as do their shopping.
Much of the growth in farmers’ markets has come from their willingness to provide options for all potential customers. Local markets can participate in the Department of Human Service’s Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which allows growers to accept senior and WIC coupons.
The Illinois Products Farmers’ Market is also a recipient of the Link Up Illinois grant, which allows Link cardholders to swipe their cards and double the value of their transaction up to $10. From 2010 to 2011, the market saw a 232 percent increase in Link card usage at the farmers’ market.
To find a farmers’ market near you and learn about the opportunities available, visit www.agr.state.il.us/markets/farmers.