Farmers' markets tend to evoke thoughts of small town bliss. Bright summer mornings turn into brisk fall ones. Crisp apples, fresh veggies and quaint window plants abound.
In fact, the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market has been so successful during its May to November season that Evanstonians were begging for more. In December 2011, the indoor Farmer and Artisan Food Market opened its doors, answering the calls of the young parents and their children who frequent the outdoor counterpart in search of wholesome, down-to-earth food year-round. Evanston’s indoor equivalent of your average farmers' market is held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Evanston Ecology Center – only a short bike, bus or, if you’re lucky enough, car ride away.
“It’s a great place to support people who are producing items locally,” said Johanna VanDorf, owner of the gluten-free bakery stand Defloured.
Mike O’Leary works for Nichols Farm, the only stand selling typical farmers' market produce on the particular Saturday I visited. He had an impressive amount for sale, considering it’s the middle of the winter. O’Leary estimated he was selling 20 varieties of apples when I spoke to him, along with celery root, onion and some squash. As we talked, he sliced several different apples for me to sample. I crunched away on the crisp and juicy goodness while he explained the importance of local food to me.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people will compromise, but they know you gotta have some produce, too. We’re having less and less each week. Last week we had leeks and brusselsprouts, now we don’t have those anymore,” O’Leary said, with only a hint of disappointment behind the enthusiasm for his job.
And that’s where the more unorthodox vendors come in. The “artisan” part of the market’s name is its distinguishing quality. Inside the stone-walled room of the Ecology Center, filled with warmth by a welcoming fireplace, the creativity and dedication to promoting local food is almost too good to be true.
Using locally produced ingredients, entrepreneurs, foodies and hobby bakers – like VanDorf – boast homemade varieties of baked goods, granola, preserves, salsas, ice cream and even dog treats. Almost every vendor gave out free samples of their sweet treats and flavorful dips, which I willfully accepted not because I felt pressured to buy their food, but because of the apparent pride with which they produced it.
Then there’s Tiny Greens Organic Farm. What looks like a table of tiny sprouts resembling grass is actually a variety of microgreens, ranging from arugula to broccoli to black onion, all irresistibly adorable, baby-sized and grown in vegetable compost.
The more patrons and vendors I spoke to at the indoor market, from an eccentric mother and her three children to the Tiny Greens worker Kato, the more I didn’t want to leave. For me, the farmers' market is about interacting with the community – which we as Northwestern students are a part – and working to realize the importance of places like it.
As the indoor market heads into its third month, why not try to make the joyous feeling of getting off campus to support the local community last all year long? After visiting the market, my stomach was happy from all of the samples, my heart was happy from seeing all the families together and my brain was happy knowing that I helped my community. I felt like my purchases of apples and granola really had made a difference.
Go to the indoor Farmer and Artisan Food Market this quarter, then go to the outdoor farmers’ market when it reopens in May. If we keep it up, maybe one day the non-college-aged population of Evanston will realize we’re a lot like them. We may get drunk more, but we still like our locally-grown munchies.