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Feature Fri Apr 08 2011
Italia Patti is a freelance writer.
Spring approaches, bringing warm weather and the promise of fresh, local food at Chicago's many outdoor farmers markets. Those who can't wait until May for fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy sourced from Chicago and its local environs can get their local food fix all year round at the Green City Market. The market moves outdoors to Lincoln Park on May 4, but takes place during colder months (approximately mid-November though late April) in the lobby of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (2430 N Cannon). While indoors, the market is held every other Saturday.
The food on offer during the winter months is admittedly not as tempting as the fragrant herbs, plump strawberries, and delicate squash blossoms of summer, but the products are by and large just as delicious. At a market a few weeks ago, an apple I sampled from Ellis Family Farms was pleasingly crisp and tart, and the milk from Kilgus Farmstead tasted the way milk should taste--which is to say, much better than milk from the grocery store generally does. In addition to milk and apples (which are harvested in the fall and stored), there were also numerous varieties of greens from several different farmers (the greens at the winter markets are typically grown indoors), mushrooms from River Valley Kitchens (which are grown indoors year-round) and a dizzying array of root vegetables (which, like the apples, are usually harvested in the fall and stored). Among the root vegetables were several varieties of potatoes from Nichols Farm and Orchard. A variety of local meats, cheeses, baked goods and prepared foods were also for sale.
There are fewer farms participating in the indoor Green City Market than the outdoor one, but those I spoke to were knowledgeable and emphasized sustainable and earth-friendly growing practices.
Vicki Westerhoff of Genesis Growers explained that for the indoor market season, she grows cool weather crops rather than expending more energy growing warm weather crops in hoops or green houses. She also mentioned that she works with another farmer in a cooperative delivery schedule. "It helps reduce our carbon footprint by reducing fuel usage and minimizes our labor," she said, adding that both are "big sustainability issues." The farmers were also passionate about their products and able to readily answer any questions--as far as I'm concerned, a perfectly good reason to forgo the comparative ease of shopping at a nearby Jewel and making the trek to the Notebaert Museum early on a Saturday. The farmers from Ellis Family Farms, for example, were able to fill me in on the process of harvesting and storing apples, and a nearby cheese purveyor suggested the excellent pairing of an Ellis Farms apple with her cheddar cheese.
Knowledgeable farmers selling their wares are not the only draw to the indoor market, though, judging from the number of patrons who spend the market snacking on baked goods, fresh crepes and hot cider at the cluster of tables set up in the museum's lobby. The Green City Market really could not ask for a better indoor venue. The bilevel space is large enough to accommodate several farm stands and large windows surround the space, offering a view of the museum's impressive grounds.
The drawback of the market's ability to attract patrons eager to socialize and sample fresh-made foods is that some of the focus shifts away from providing sustainably grown local produce and onto making the market comfortable and convenient. Paper plates, disposable cups and plastic silverware abound--somewhat undercutting the notion that the market caters to an earth-conscious consumer. Concerns about the environmental impact of farmers markets cannot be limited to the Green City Market's indoor season, however. For those who crave the relative benefits of farmers markets and are not bothered by the possibility the whole project of buying local food is counterproductive and/or hypocritical (questions much too large to tackle here), the indoor market is a great alternative while waiting for the more plentiful options brought on by warmer weather.