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Farm fresh: Farmers markets offer fresh, locally grown food

Ellen Kamps of St. Charles looks through produce with seller Larry Geddes at the Geneva Green Market. The Geneva Green Market runs Thursdays behind the First Congregational Church of Geneva.
Ellen Kamps of St. Charles looks through produce with seller Larry Geddes at the Geneva Green Market. The Geneva Green Market runs Thursdays behind the First Congregational Church of Geneva.

Larry Geddes owns Perennial Pleasures Garden Center in Blackberry Township, growing his own carrots and lettuce and producing his own honey.

His organic produce was on display recently at the Geneva Green Market, a farmers market tucked into the back yard of the First Congregational Church of Geneva, 327 Hamilton St., Geneva.

"We don't spray," Geddes said, standing in the shade next to a half-dozen other vendors.

Paul St. John and his daughter, Charlotte, of Sugar Grove, who own Grandma's Farm Fresh Eggs, were selling ecru, tan and pale blue eggs from free-range hens, so fresh they had just been collected from nests that morning. The freshness of the products is what draws Julianna Holden Mohler of Aurora to seek out the Geneva Green Market. It pledges that all produce is grown or raised within 200 miles.

"I like to come to this farmers market," Mohler  said. "I like the organic produce and the fresh eggs."

Farmers markets are becoming more popular among consumers, supporters say, because residents can meet the farmers who produce the food locally and get the freshest quality possible. As the popularity of the local food movement grows, so do avenues of support. The U.S. Department of Agriculture supports a national database listing every farmers market in the country that signs up.  

The USDA also is sponsoring National Farmers Market Week from Aug. 3 to 9, capitalizing on consumer interest to develop relationships with farmers, according to its blog. It also seeks to support sustainability and encourage market development.

Likewise, the Illinois Farmers Market Association lists farmers markets and resources for farmers and consumers.

All that support is good news for farmer Milt Westlake who sells his vegetables and 80 varieties of jams, jellies, salad dressing and pickles at the Sugar Grove Farmers Market and four others every week.

"It's bouncing back," Westlake, 84, said of the Sugar Grove Farmers Market. "It went down for the count for a couple of years, but now it's bounced back quite nicely. I think it's going to be back to being a viable market again."

Westlake grows vegetables and fruit on five acres in LaSalle County near Sheridan.

Farming is something of a fourth career for Westlake, who sold Chevrolet trucks for 25 years, he said, then owned a truck stop and two ice cream drive-ins.

"The Sugar Grove Farmers Market has always been a pretty nice market," Westlake said. "This year, we have quite a few vendors, and it looks more like a market. We've done quite well for our first couple of weeks."

Sugar Grove resident Pat Graceffa said organizers reorganized the farmers market, boosting its vendors up to 20.

"We did what people asked us to do," Graceffa said. "They asked us to bring the market back, to bring more vendors back. We have good community turnout – but we need better community turnout if they want vendors to continue to come. The vendors are happy. They could be happier."

One new vendor at Sugar Grove Farmers Market is Chelsea Turner who makes cupcakes. A 21-year-old nursing student from Aurora, Turner said baking was a hobby, and then she decided to try the market.

"I sold out all my cupcakes both weeks," Turner said. "I made over 70 cupcakes. Each week, it's more people."

• • •

Gov. Pat Quinn this week signed House Bill, 5657 into law, new legislation of a series of reforms that support farmers markets and Illinois farmer, said Wes King, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance

The downstate nonprofit organization advocates for land stewardship and promoting local food systems for new economic opportunities for farmers. The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Mikchael Tryon, R-Crystal Lake and State Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, who first introduced similar legislation in 2009.

The reforms create consistent statewide food and safety rules for farmers markets instead of a patchwork of various rules from county to county, King said.

Another aspect is product origin and transparency provisions so food is labeled stating the address where the products were grown.

"One of the issues we heard about for years ... was a few people who wanted to take advantage of the growing interest of farmers markets by buying wholesale and bringing it to market as if they were farmers," King said. 

"We want transparency," King added. "Do not bring things you didn't grow. Consumers expect something and want that transparency. ... These reforms will help to support and sustain new and current farmers markets, the jobs they create, the business they incubate and the farmers – young and old – that call them home."

Know more

Some farmers markets in the Fox Valley:

• Geneva Green Market, 7 a.m.  to 1 p.m. Thursdays through October at First Congregational Church, 327 Hamilton St., Geneva. It continues through the winter from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays inside the church. All food is grown or produced within 200 miles.

• Geneva French Market, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 10 on South Street in the commuter parking lot at South Fourth Street.

• Sugar Grove Farmers Market, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Sept. 27 at the Sugar Grove Village Hall parking lot at Route 30 and 10 Municipal Drive.

• St. Charles Farmers Market, 7 a.m. to 1p.m. Fridays through October at Fourth Avenue and Main Street/Route 64.

• Village of Campton Hills Farmers Market, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 25 at Campton Crossings Shopping Center, southeast corner of Route 64 and LaFox Road.

• Batavia Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Oct. 18 on North River Street between Wilson and State streets. 

• Aurora Downtown Farmers Market, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Oct. 18 at the Aurora Transportation Center, 233 N. Broadway.

• Aurora West Farmers Market 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays July 9 through Sept.10 West Aurora Plaza, 1901 W. Galena Blvd.

•  Aurora East Farmers Market 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, July 10 through Aug. 28 at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, 701 S. Eola Road.

• Elgin Farmers Marke, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays through Oct. 2 at 200 N. Grove Ave. 

For information about farmers markets:

• Illinois Stewardship Alliance -

• Illinois Farmers Market Association -

• U.S. Department of Agriculture -

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