It snuck up on me this year, but here we all are again. Summer. Some people look forward to it, longing for those beach vacations and patio margaritas. Others love it because of the prime weather for playing some soccer or enjoying a morning run. And while I do love me some patio margaritas, I’d be lying if I said I consider myself one of summer’s biggest fans; the heat makes me want to wilt under the cool A/C somewhere. There is, however, one thing about summer that can’t be beat: the farmers’ market season. My favorite place to whittle away an afternoon, the farmers market is a unique opportunity to get to know your neighborhood farmers, bakers, and makers, and to stock your kitchen with local goodies.
And this season, Elgin happens to be lucky enough to boast its own budding gem: the Elgin Farmer’s Market. Nestled downtown on South Grove Avenue, the market runs Fridays from 3:00-7:00 p.m., and just opened for the season June 1st, running all the way through October 5th. And if you went to the market last year and left feeling underwhelmed, give it another shot; you’ll be surprised. The Elgin Farmers’ Market, formerly called the Elgin Harvest Market, is a far cry from the goods-heavy, quiet market it was known as prior to this season’s revamp. Last season, the food vendors were at a minimum, and it seemed that goods were instead the lay of the land. This season, the organizers heard the community’s wish for more local foods, and the market has been overhauled, shifting the focus to fresh, local foods. According to a Daily Herald interview with market manager Christina Gonzales, the organizers were “very determined that everything had to be locally produced” – and it shows. Illinois farmers and makers now the headlining priority, the Elgin Farmers’ Market is an ideal way to kick off the weekend for all foodies with a passion for supporting our neighborhood economy.
Last Friday, I decided to check it out, and rode my bike – shout out to Elgin Bike Hub for their dedication to promoting bike safety and bikeability across Elgin. Not only is riding my bike a healthy way to kick off the weekend, it also helps me be mindful of just how much I’m buying, since it has to all fit into my basket on the ride back home. In theory, anyway. This limited space didn’t exactly keep me from buying too many things last week, to be honest. Call me overzealous, but I just love stocking up on all the fresh, local veggies and honey to last me through the week.
When I got there, armed with a jar of iced coffee to beat the heat, it didn’t take me long to dive in and sample my way on down the thoroughfare. I started out at Red Flower Organics, a farm based in Maple Park that has an emphasis on organic crops – and some incredible jam, to boot. I love that they go so far as to make their own pectin, dedicating themselves to rigorous standards for their farming practices. Talk about a wholesome treat! With a jar of the deliciousness weighing down my tote, it was time to find the right bread to partner it with. Enter Treasure Breads, Inc. Locally made, these soft loaves live up to their name, and taste absolutely divine.
Since this was my first time coming to this reimagining of Elgin’s farmers’ market, I was struck by the bustle of people who were all as excited for this market as I was. With the date and time shifted to Friday happy hour, it was pure genius to shift the market’s location to downtown. From the market, people can fluidly shift from the market to enjoying Elgin’s nightlife at one of the breweries, restaurants, or bars in the area, so long as they had some place to stash their buys – like in a car.
Unfortunately, I lacked that foresight. It wasn’t until I had already bought some salves and goodies from Three Bees, a local beekeeper who uses the honey and wax to create body care products, that I realized my bags were getting loaded down – especially after stocking up on a bit of in-season produce (after signing up for a CSA) and one tomato seedling. In fact, the only “flaw” I could really find in this new time is for bikers like me who may want to follow up on browsing the market with a little happy hour. Admitting my defeat on the happy hour front, I decided to plow forward in my shopping and found the stall for Brian Severson Farms – an Illinois-based farmer and miller that makes stoneground flours and grits. Being a southern transplant, I armed myself with a pound (or two) of those stoneground grits for this week’s breakfast. For the record? They were delicious.
At this point, I was thoroughly resigned to having to head home with these bags of goodies, and didn’t hesitate to make a final pitstop at the Barky Bite Dog Treats booth. My rescue pup Loki is an angel, and I try to do right by her with homemade dog food, but sometimes I want to give her something a little more special. The folks at Barky Bite have the right idea in mind by crafting healthful, handmate pet treats that keep my Loki feeling her best – and getting something special.
By the time I hauled everything back to my bike, I had a hard time fitting it all in; that tomato seedling being my worst decision of the evening. Wiped out, and growing hungry, I did what any rational adult would have done: sat down on a bench, pulled out my pocket knife, and slathered that Red Flower Organics jam on the cinnamon bread I had bought from Treasure Breads, and savored a hunk then and there. Who needs happy hour with a snack like that?
While summer isn’t my favorite time of year, it’s hard to beat the peace – and quality foods – the market season brings. And in the name of some real, local deliciousness, I’ll take the sweaty pulse of summer any day. Especially at a market like this one. Only next time, I’ll figure out where to put all my goodies before I buy them. I bet there’s a funny food meme in this experience somewhere…