Farm Fresh—Farmers Markets offer more than just fresh produce

July 2015 View more

Fresh Fruit picked in a brown paper bagThree things you should know about shopping at farmers’ markets: It’ll take longer than you expected, you’ll purchase more than you planned, and you won’t care about the first two things when you get home.

Farmers markets take you out of the weekly produce shopping routine at the local grocery store and surprise you with everything from fresh produce, cheese and meat, to crafts, baked goods, and even musical entertainment.

Naperville area farmers’ markets have their own distinctive personalities while maintaining their vegetable and fruit roots. From the farmer-focused market in downtown Naperville to the newer, flashier French market in Wheaton, you have plenty of opportunities to take a day (usually a Saturday) away from it all and support local farmers and artisans.

Here’s a taste of some of the more popular markets in the area.

Naperville Farmers Market

Fifth Avenue Station

7 a.m. to noon, Saturdays through Oct. 31

Ever visit the Naperville Farmers Market and watch a vendor and customer talk like they’ve known each other for decades? They probably have.

Naperville has changed tremendously in the last 25 years, but the market has had some of the same vendors for many years, including some—like Evergreen Farm in Yorkville—that were there the day the market opened.

“It’s really awesome. People get to know the farmers, farmers get to know them,” said Kathy Mortensen, who runs the Naperville market. “They take time and have relationships with their customers.”

Kathy Theis jokes that she could set her watch to the time when loyal customers stop by her stand at the market each Saturday.

“We have a lot of friends there,” said Theis, who runs 25-acre Evergreen Farm in Yorkville with her husband, Steve. “We’ve watched a lot of kids grow up, move, get married, come back.”

Bread Stall Owner At Market Serving Customer With LoafThe fourth-generation farm has been at the Naperville market since Jane Sindt started the market in the late 1980s. The farm, which is managed in part by Steve and Kathy’s kids and grandkids, sells many types of vegetables as well as flowers during the spring.

“You learn about customers. They become part of the family because we see them week after week,” Theis said. “You kind of know what they’re going to get.”

Another family farm that’s been part of Naperville’s market for many years is Lange’s Farm from Elwood.

“We’re within 40 minutes of the market and we pick almost everything the day before,” said Harold Lange, who owns the farm with his wife, Janet. “It can’t get any fresher than that.”

Their son, Kirk, his wife Buffy and their three girls help work the 25-acre vegetable farm and are the primary salespeople each Saturday, which has taught the girls a lot about responsibility, customer service and math.

The Naperville market has several new vendors this year, including some that sell organic produce and gluten-free foods. There are now nearly 27 vendors, selling a range of products and services including cheese, honey, seafood, meats, pasta and even knife sharpening.

The market is based on farmers with goods that are farmer-raised and produced, according to Mortensen.

Young woman at the marketSt. John’s Episcopal Church, Naperville

750 Aurora Ave

3 to 7 p.m., Wednesdays through Sept. 16

One of the best advertising vehicles for the St. John’s market is a stoplight. During Wednesday evening rush hours in the summer, many drivers are converted into customers when they spot the market while waiting at the busy Aurora Avenue and West Street intersection.

“We pray for traffic jams,” joked Jan Hummel, market master for the Farmers Market at St. John’s.

The market started as a way to raise money for charities such as Loaves & Fishes and Feed My Starving Children. It has been growing each year and now has up to 20 vendors, which include several farms such as a new microgreens business from south Naperville, cheesemakers from Quincy, a meat market from the DeKalb area and the superlative DeEtta’s bakery from Naperville’s north side.

The dog-friendly market also has special features each month, including a summer Santa event in July, grilling demonstrations in August and free recipes every week.

“It’s a wonderful place to be on a Wednesday afternoon,” Hummel said. “It’s like an old-time country fair. We have a lot of fun.”

Wheaton French Market

Main and Liberty streets

8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 14

If you’re used to small, farm-focused markets, you’ll be dazzled by the array of offerings at Wheaton’s market including handcrafted jewelry, woodworking, baked goods, vintage books and, of course, plenty of produce.

“It’s a mix—it’s not just a farmer’s market because we have crafters and local stores,” said Tom Straus, social media and marketing manager for Bensidoun USA Inc.

There are several dozen vendors at the market each week, including Windy Acres Farm, Seize the Bead, the Wayward Book and Silly Sister’s Pottery.
Bensidoun USA started the Wheaton market more than 10 years ago then branched out with similar markets in suburbs such as Lisle, Villa Park and Wilmette. The company is based in Chicago and also runs many open-air markets in France and the New York City area.

NMAG0715_SmallFeature_iStock_000016918655_Large_800pxLisle French Market

Garfield Avenue

8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturdays through Oct. 31

Good luck getting through this market without buying a dozen donut holes from John Dough Bakery or vegetables and fruits from several vendors.

The market is thriving in its picturesque new space, which is just west of downtown and next to PrairieWalk pond. You can also take a break from your shopping and listen to a solo guitarist performing near the pond.

Downers Grove Farmers Market

Main Street train station at Burlington Avenue

7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 17

The Downers Grove market strikes a balance between the traditional farmers markets and the French markets. For example, Evergreen and Lange farms sell at Downers Grove, as do several local crafters, a meat store and bakeries that offer sweets and breakfast sandwiches. You can pick up flowers from the Flower Garden of St. Anne, and wonderful baked goods made from scratch by the nuns at St. Roger Abbey in Chicago, who also sell at the Wheaton market.