Come taste the difference

Champaign Farmer’s Market

Dining: Champaign Farmer’s Market

Come taste the difference

Champaign Farmer’s Market

Have you been to the Champaign Farmer's Market?

Story: Bridget Broihahn

Photos: Bridget Broihahn

The Champaign Farmer’s Market
Come taste the difference

There’s no doubt about it, farmer’s markets offer consumers the opportunity to purchase the freshest produce possible directly from the people who grow it. The Land Connection, Champaign, is a nonprofit founded in 2001 with the goal of saving farmland from development. They sponsor the Champaign Farmer’s Market that takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday now through October at the corner of Neil and Main Streets.

“The mission has since expanded to support farmers by offering training programs, connecting new farmers with farmland, and educating the public about where their food comes from, which in turn creates new markets for farmers,” Cara Cummings said.

Cummings is the executive director of the Land Connection. She said the market has between 17 and 22 vendors per week currently.

“We have more farmers lined up for later in the summer. All of our vendors sell food -no crafts- and most of them are located within 150 miles of Champaign,” Cummings said. “The exceptions to that rule are things that we don’t grow here in the Midwest like coffee and seafood, and some value added products like baked goods.”

There are a lot of produce vendors who are selling fruits, vegetables, and plants.

“We also have two dairy vendors selling cheese and gelato. And if all goes well we will have meat vendors by mid-summer. We also have a community tent where organizations will rotate through and offer information and activities throughout the season,” she said. “We even had a poet who worked with us to write a community poem! And June 9, we started offering kids activities in partnership with groups like the Orpheum.”

Many people wonder why consumers should buy from a farmer’s market when they can just grab some produce at the store. Plus, they also believe if they buy organic at a store, then there’s virtually no difference than buying directly from a farmer’s market.

According to Cummings, they could just be misinformed.

“There really is no comparison when it comes to taste of freshly picked fruits and vegetables. And although there is organic produce available at the grocery store, consumers have no idea when it was picked,” Cummings said. “Organic vegetables from California or South America may have been picked more than a week before it hits the shelves—not to mention the environmental impact of a strawberry that traveled thousands of miles versus a strawberry that was picked the same morning and travelled less than an hour.”

The Land Connection’s Farmer’s Market Manager, Sarah Simeziane said that even though it’s early in the growing season, they have had a great turn-out from both the vendors and the consumers.

“It’s nice to have these growers that support our mission: the Solo Gratia Farm, Heir Luminous, Triple D Tomatoes and Prosperity Gardens, to name just a few,” Simeziane said from the Land Connection’s tent at the market last week. “We are right in front of Big Grove Tavern, one of our sponsors.”

The Land Connection’s Administrative Program Assistant, Stephanie Fenty arranged some of the various marketing tools out for customers. Simeziane handed out reusable Land Connection shopping bags to the first 50 customers.

“I enjoy my job,” Fenty said. “I was very interested in local food before I came to The Land Connection, so it was destiny.”

Christy Rivers was in the next booth, volunteering for St. John’s Lutheran School fundraiser. Rivers is an English teacher at Parkland College.

“I love the local business aspect of the farmer’s market. I love local food,” she said. “Sarah’s awesome. I’m so glad to be here.”

Joan Jach owner of South Prairie Street Farm will be at the market this season. She is changing her farming strategy from livestock, vegetables and flowers.
“Now, I’m “Old Town Flowers,” and I’m switching to all flowers,” she said.

Kaya Tate of Hopscotch Cupcakes had the booth adjacent to Old Town Flowers.

“It’s been good out here,” she said.

Nicole Bridges executive director, Prosperity Gardens which has gardens located on North First St., Champaign, worked the booth at the end of the row at the market. Josephine Tritsch, program coordinator was also at the market.

“She’s out trying to get a job for one of our graduates,” Bridges said. “Every kid that has worked for us last summer wants to work for us this summer.”

Prosperity Gardens provides hands-on garden-based education and green business employment opportunities for READY students and offers affordable, locally grown produce to the community.

The kids work from seed to sold with the produce, teaching them about garden-based opportunities and how to live a green, healthy life. Both Bridges and Tritsch want that to extend out into the greater community.

“This woman in the community asked me how she could make her collard greens healthier,” Bridges said. “I went to neighborhood meetings and I kept hearing: “cancer,” “obesity,” “diabetes,” and other unhealthy themes. I kept asking myself, ‘How do we address these systemic poverty issues?’ I know it’s a process, and a collaboration of the community to get there.”

Bridges and Tritsch have a goal of establishing a year-round farm with collaborative partners, such as Common Ground Food Co-op, other benefactors and grant funding through agencies like The United Way.

“READY makes all of their own breakfasts and lunches, and we provide the arugula, lettuce and radishes for the school,” Bridges said. “It’s all organic. The garden is the kids’ outdoor classroom. It starts during the school year with Aaron Higley’s horticulture and biology/earth science classes, then ends here with a collaboration with the Boys and Girls Clubs summer programming.”

The students raise their own lunch and snack. In the afternoons, they work at the farmer’s markets.

“We do three markets a week: The Land Connection on Tuesday, Francis Nelson on Wednesday from 1:30 to 5 p.m.-we use our mobile market bus that’s like a food truck with “real” food- and then on Thursday we market on site at Prosperity Gardens from 3:30 to 6 p.m. There’s nothing more rewarding for kids with real issues to be able to get out in the sun, grow food that nourishes them and to help get that food out to others. This is their outdoor classroom,” Bridges said. “This is healthy.”

Stopping by The Land Connection Farmer’s Market on the way home makes good sense this summer. They also have tips for when consumers get home, too.
The Land Connection offers recipe cards at the market to help people learn how to cook things that might be unfamiliar to them. And we also offer cooking classes in conjunction with Common Ground Food Co-op and Urbana’s Market at the Square,” Cummings said. “I encourage readers to sign up for the Weekly Harvest Newsletter and to check out The Land Connection’s website. And of course come to the new Farmers’ Market and see us at The Land Connection tent!”

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