Know Your Farmers Market: 61st Street Farmers Market

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jun 22, 2012 8:20PM

Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist

(Today we begin a regular series where we visit a different farmers market in the city as part of raising awareness of the farmers market network across Chicago, their locations and how they work to bring the freshest produce and foodstuffs to the communities they serve.)

The 61st Street Farmers Market in the Woodlawn neighborhood has long been one of our favorites, especially when we're in the mood for a decent bike ride but not a visit to Green City Market, which can be packed like sardines on a Saturday.

Located at the Experimental Station, an organization that helps facilitate cultural and small business enterprises in an effort to develop a mutually supportive environment between themselves and their beneficiaries, the 61st Street Farmers Market operates Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Saturday, rain or shine. The Experimental Station founded the market in 2008 in response to Mari Gallagher's groundbreaking 2006 report on Chicago food deserts. Their goals, then and now, are the same.

  • To create an oasis in the local 'food desert' by providing residents throughout the Woodlawn neighborhood and the surrounding areas with the opportunity to buy fresh, regionally grown farm products that are nutritious and affordable, and that specifically cater to the culinary needs of Chicago's diverse South Side population
  • To provide a direct marketing opportunity for producers of Midwestern, regionally grown agricultural and other farm-related products
  • To reflect the diverse demographic composition of the local community by seeking to recruit regional agricultural producers and vendors of African-American descent
  • To create a place to educate consumers about health and nutrition, including how food is grown, produced, or prepared
  • To provide a community activity that celebrates the vitality and diversity of Chicago's South side
  • To make fresh, affordable produce available to seniors and to people using LINK and the Farmers Market Senior Nutrition program.

61st Street was one of the first markets to develop a system that would allow purchasing food from their vendors via LINK card, and helped pilot that program to other farmers markets across the city in 2010.

The results were astounding and clear: people who receive SNAP assistance will shop at farmers markets if they have the means to redeem their credits. Knowing SNAP assistance only goes so far, 61st Street Farmers Market will match the purchases of LINK card users up to $25, so long as they have the available funding.

And they have a list of vendors that rivals Green City, Logan Square and the other larger farmers markets. This weekend Mick Klug Orchards is ending one season (strawberries) and ringing in the height of orchard season. Expect to see red raspberry, sweet cherry, tart cherry, apricot, and maybe even blueberry and peach season. Mick Klug will also be bringing shelled peas, sugar snap peas, cabbage, yellow squash, green squash, Mexican Grey squash, eight-ball squash, cucumbers, and green onions.

Envision, a first year vendor, will have on hand kale, chard, collard greens, zucchini, arugula, sage, mint, mulberries and green garlic. Mint Creek Farm, in addition to their amazing goat and lamb, will have a new batch of grass-fed, young Angus beef steaks and burgers ready for the grill. Other vendors we spied on our visit were Crumb's bake shop, Growing Power, and Spice!, which makes amazing tacos, tortas and burritos using ingredients from the market.

61st Street Farmers Market has regular chefs demos. This week's guest chef is FIG Catering's Justin Hall, who will be making lamb meatballs with spicy tomato sauce. A "market school" tent provides opportunities to learn about responsible agriculture, health and nutrition, environmental preservation, gardening, and this week, legislation. Tracy Smith of Feeding Illinois will be on hand to talk about the 2012 Farm Bill.

The Experimental Station aims to have 1,000 people visit the 61st Street Farmers Market weekly.

The 61st Street Farmers Market is located at 6100 S. Blackstone, between Blackstone and Dorchester Streets.