Every Saturday morning from May 1st to November 6th, farmers, artists, food trucks, political party representatives, students, dogs and people of the community make their way to the Lincoln Square Village in Urbana for the weekly Market at the Square.
More commonly referred to as the Farmer’s Market, the Market at the Square offers everything from in-season fruits and vegetables, baked goods and flowers to woodcarvings, glass items, clothing and dog gear. It runs from 7 A.M. to noon, rain or shine, and is free to the public.
It’s nearly impossible to miss the Farmer’s Market if you are driving through downtown Urbana on a Saturday Morning. There are huge tents, big food trucks, and lots of people. If you walk into the Market, the information table with the bright green tent and the “I Love My Farmers Market” shirts, with a rooster cleverly replacing where the love would be, hanging from the top is a good place to start. They have any information you need pertaining to the market, vendors, and what’s for sale that week.
Depending on what time you get to the Market, it’s very likely that it will be busy with patrons and many times their dogs, both big and small. The first row of the market is primarily vendors selling fruits and vegetables, but there is someone who sells jam on the end, and a vendor or two selling baked goods. As you continue further into the Market, it becomes less produce items and more prepared foods and crafts.
The Market itself is a great place for students to meet and get to know people outside of the student community. Likewise, if you are a member of the community, it’s a great place to get to know University staff and students. It serves as a great social outlet for people who are interested in supporting local businesses and buying and eating locally grown foods.
The Market at the Square began 32 years ago and is run by the city of Urbana, Lisa Bralts, Director of the Market said. It began as an outlet for farmers to sell their extra produce and has grown steadily since then. In 2009, there were 178 registered vendors with an average of 70 coming every weekend. Market go-ers topped 7,000 per week over the course of the season and went as high as 10,000 per week during the summer months.
There are many benefits to the Market at the Square. It helps develop the farmers’ community and their relationship with their patrons. Local businesses flourish as well, aiding economic development. Because of the Market, more and more people drift into downtown Urbana for the best produce and locally made goods at their freshest, Bralts said.
Bralts also believes people should come to the Farmer’s Market and treat it like a grocery store, as a place to buy their usual fruits and vegetables. Then, go to the grocery store to fill in the things you still need. She says that in general, Americans believe food is just food, but produce from the farmer’s market is different because it is produced locally instead of through corporate agriculture, ensuring a higher quality of taste and freshness than that of the grocery store. She said that we all deserve to eat well and the first step is buying fresh ingredients.
The Market was a great option for fresh eggs during the salmonella scare earlier this year. There was a huge influx in people who came to the market looking for safe eggs to eat, Bralts said.
Becky Roach, a professor at the University of Illinois, has been coming to the Market since 1991 for the fruits and vegetables and said that it’s “one of the best experiences in Champaign-Urbana.” She absolutely recommends the Farmer’s Market to others, saying that it’s “sort of a cultural part of Champaign-Urbana.”
Roach said that over the years, she has not seen many students at the market and that the majority of market go-ers are people from the community. The Market is very close to campus, just east of Vine and Illinois in the Public Library parking lot, making it very accessible for students.
Majority of the vendors are from the neighboring areas, like Champaign and Savoy, but some are from as far as Chicago and Kankakee. The Market mandates that all items sold must be produced by the seller in the state of Illinois.
Carole and Hary Sworthwood of CK Almonds have been selling almonds at the Market for about three years. They said that they like that there are so many people of so many different backgrounds and nationalities. Jean and Wally Kistler from the Homestead Bakery who have been vendors for about five years also enjoy the variety of people but also said that they enjoy getting to know their customers when they keep coming back.