Early Saturday morning, Michaela DeSoucey rushed around behind the tables at the Evanston farmers’ market. Shoppers came by the dozen, money in hand, asking for bags of spices and vegetables. She moved with the skill of a veteran marketplace seller: reaching over the stand to grab a handful of greens, making change with wad of cash in her apron, and then turning to the next customer with a smile.
It looked like she was doing a full-time job. But after leaving her post at the farmers’ market, DeSoucey would go back to working on her sociology doctorate at Northwestern. DeSoucey just helps out at the Kinnikinnick Farm stand in her spare time.
For over five hours every Saturday, May to November, a piece of rural Illinois comes to a nondescript blacktop parking lot at the corner of Oak and University. The farmers’ market has been set up in Evanston for more than 30 years. Like most markets of its kind, it offers organic produce, fresh bread and other farm-grown consumables. But beyond that, it provides a change of pace for some Northwestern students and alumni.
DeSoucey met the owners of Kinnikinnick Farm, David and Susan Cleverdon, about two years ago as DeSoucey was working on her second-year Master’s thesis on local food movements. She went to local markets, asking for interviews with farmers.
“David is incredibly smart and vocal,” DeSoucey said. “He invited me to come out to the farm for a day.”
DeSoucey kept in touch with the Cleverdons during the following summer, even though her research was complete. In summer 2006, she asked David for a job at the stand. She has been working with the Cleverdons for two seasons now, sometimes helping out at their farm near Rockford, Ill., as well as at the market.
“[The farm] is beautiful,” she said. “It’s off of a small dirt road, the kind of place that you can’t get to unless you know where you’re going.”
The Cleverdons have set up shop at the Evanston farmers’ market since 1995, and they picked this location with good reason. David says there are three great markets in Chicago: the Green City Market, the Oak Park farmers’ market and the Evanston farmers’ market.
“Evanstonians are fanatic about their farmers’ market,” he said. “They come even when it rains.”
A short distance away, past a booth giving out balloons promoting the Evanston Public Library, a man sang and played guitar for the crowd. Gene Lim, Northwestern class of ’84, came to represent his church, Evanston Bible Fellowship. The church has no permanent home right now, he explained. They could no longer afford to pay the lease on their previous building, so in the meantime they meet every Sunday at the Century 12 movie theatre.
Lim first experienced the market when he was a freshman at Northwestern in 1981. He has been coming back to entertain the crowd with tunes for about ten years. After a heartfelt rendition of “Please Please Me” by the Beatles, Lim paused briefly to pass out EBF fliers to anyone willing to drop a dollar into his open guitar case. He began playing again, with a familiar line from Don McLean: “A long, long time ago, I can still remember…”
Like most farmers’ markets, Evanston’s sells only organic food and produce. There’s only one rule: What you sell you must grow and make yourself. Although simple, the restriction keeps large corporations at bay. The majority of the merchants there are small farmers from northern Illinois.
However, a few of the more dedicated sellers come from farther away. Roy Elko of Elko’s Produce and Greenhouse leaves at 1:45 a.m. from Cambria, Wisc. to arrive at Evanston for the 7:30 a.m. opening of the market. He’s been coming since the market first started.
“I came here 30 years ago on my wedding day,” he said. “I’m still married to the same woman.”
When Elko isn’t selling corn, pumpkins, or other gourds, he shows off pictures of his daughter. Carrie Elko is a sophomore flute performance major in the Northwestern School of Music. She rolled her eyes as he flipped through pictures of her frolicking around as a five-year-old.
“I get to walk over here bright and early on Saturday mornings,” she said.
Her father went on to show off more pictures of himself as a young man at the market 30 years ago. Elko said he doesn’t believe in sitting down on the job, and that he hasn’t done so for the entire time he’s been coming to the market. Carrie rolled her eyes again and let out a long, “Daaaaad…”
The farmers’ market ends with the coming of winter. The final day this year is Nov. 3. Evanstonians will resort to Whole Foods again for their organic needs. But come next summer, the market will return. Elko and his daughter will also return. Elko smiles as he talks about the people of Evanston: “They keep me coming back.”
Photos by Sheena Agarwal / North by Northwestern.