ST. CHARLES – Fresh lettuces and vegetables defy the elements at the St. Charles Farmers Market, which has taken up winter residence inside Baker Memorial United Methodist Church.
The Friday morning market is an inviting destination, where visitors can buy coffee and a treat from members of the Joshua Tree Community, and then browse vendor offerings from chemical-free meats and eggs to flowers, artisan-made edibles, personal care products, gift items and German baked goods, including gluten-free temptations.
A DeKalb restaurateur is newly returned from Greece after overseeing the harvest of organic olives for his extra virgin olive oil grown in Sparta in a grove that’s been in his family for five generations. Bill Hristakos, who aptly named his product Bill’s Olive Oil, notes the olives are pressed within 24 hours of harvest.
Thanks to a heated greenhouse, Mighty Greens Farm in Elburn will produce microgreens and petite greens all winter. While the farm is not certified organic, the greens are grown in organic potting soil, said Sara Schluchter of Elburn, who works for the farm.
She said they use cold-frame houses and other techniques to extend the growing season, and have been offering leeks, bok choy, carrots, Swiss chard, kale varieties, radishes, turnips, watercress, arugula and other flavorful and nutrient-dense greens. She called the winter market a great community.
“We have here a lot of loyal customers – [it’s] fun to connect with each Friday,” Schluchter said.
Burgin Farms in Maple Park offers free-range, grass-fed beef, chicken and pork, as well as chicken and duck eggs.
Rick Burgin, whose brother, Bob, owns the farm, said it all started with the sale of eggs out of the house, before they started raising the animals on the farm. He said they don’t use hormones or injections.
Little Red Truck Apiary of Maple Park offers local honey, honey straws and candies among its products. The hives are tended by the mother-and-son team of Nancy and Jeremy Perrotta. They also sell bee pollen that Jeremy Perrotta said can be put into smoothies and teas or consumed by itself.
“It has all the healthy properties of honey,” he said, adding that beeswax candles were just added to their inventory. “We make the candles ourselves. [They’re] really nice for the holidays – with a faint smell of honey when burned.”
C Jay’s Smokehouse of Wonder Lake offers homemade barbecue sauces. Owner Christopher Plotts said he developed the sauces so he’d have something worthy of the meats he’s been smoking and hopes to market down the road. He said the sauces, which are made with fresh vegetables and no corn syrup, include a garlic and ginger blend, one with honey and serrano pepper, and another based on blackstrap molasses.
Food for organic diets ranging from paleo to gluten-free and vegan are offered by The Eating Well. Among the items are veggie burgers, soups, grass-fed-beef chili and desserts. Owner Daniel Sikorski said the company’s trademark is: “Say no to food on drugs.”
Dirt Tribe has created personal care items for the past seven years, including a face care line.
“The cold-processed soaps are good for the skin,” owner Brady DeSimone said, citing such ingredients as shea butter and oils, including hemp.
Fox Flower Farm in Plato Center focuses on fresh-cut flowers at the summer market, but until the holidays will offer displays of forced bulbs, including amaryllis and other blooms, as well as holiday evergreens. Jodie Winnette said she will be back at the market in mid-March with fresh flowers.
Stojan’s Vegetables of Maple Park will have autumn harvest produce until Christmas, Karen Stojan said. They have been selling potatoes, onion, sweet potatoes, squash, popcorn, carrots, beets and other root crops.
Monika’s Organic Bakery prepares old world favorites from Germany, as well as vegan and gluten-free options. Monika Merryman, who said she will take a hiatus from the market from mid-January to mid-February to study at a noted baking academy in Germany, is known for handmade German breads, pastries and pretzels.
At the table set up by the Joshua Tree Community, visitors will find crafts for sale, bookmarks and holiday notecards, as well as cookies and such treats as peanut brittle. Amy Singer founded the group comprised of adults with intellectual disabilities.
The farmers market manager is Rob Murphy of St. Charles, a classical musician as well as a cheese and fishmonger who owns Curds and Whey, which offers cheese, fish and artisan breads.
“I bring two to four types of fresh fish to the market, plus smoked fish and prawn,” said Murphy, who recently expanded his business to include a store in the Ace Hardware-anchored shopping center in downtown Geneva.
He has managed the outdoor market since it came under the sponsorship of Baker church more than a decade ago, and said this is the third season for the winter location running through May.
“We generally have anywhere from 16 to 20 vendors – a really good mix,” Murphy said. “Even in the winter, we have a really good representation of local farmers.”
Winter hours are 9 a.m. to noon Fridays, but Murphy said vendors set up early, and folks headed to work are welcome to drop by closer to 8 a.m. The market usually is set up in Baker Hall right off the 307 Cedar Ave. entrance to the church.
For more information, visit bakermemorialchurch.org.