Nestled on the southwest corner of Albion and Sheridan, the Loyola Farmers Market will open up for its third season on June 10. From fruits and veggies to gluten-free pastries and knives, the market has a wide array of vendors, many returning from previous seasons.
Every Monday afternoon from 3-7 p.m. (Fall hours will be 2:30-6:30 p.m., Sept. 30 through Oct. 14), local growers, producers, and specialty vendors congregate under tents and display their products for community members.
Loyola’s Sustainability Specialist Gina Lettiere has managed the market since its first season in 2011.
“It’s really about shaping how our food is distributed and supporting our regional growers and producers,” she says.
In addition to providing local food and products to the Rogers Park and Edgewater communities, the market also provides a space for educating consumers about food sourcing and what it means for their region.
“Last year, when the orchards got hit hard with a couple hard freezes, people were asking, ‘Where’s the fruit?’” Lettiere says. “It was a great opportunity to talk about weather conditions and how that impacts our food.”
The market was the brainchild of a group of students in a 2009 STEP course on food systems. They developed a business model, received approval, and held the first market. Over the past three years, the number and diversity of market vendors has increased.
Student involvement at the market did not stop at its inception; student volunteers give the market extra sets of helping hands to make it run smoothly. They are responsible for helping the vendors set up shop, weighing produce, greeting customers, taking down the market, and performing other tasks.
Each season, Lettiere also recruits one student to be her assistant market manager. The assistant managers from the market’s previous seasons have landed jobs right after graduation, which Lettiere attributes in part to the experience they gained in the position.
“It’s not just pushing papers,” she says. “It’s a really challenging job. You get some really great hands-on career development skills.”
Problem solving, project management, and serving the needs of both customers and vendors are all skills that assistant market managers will have plenty opportunity to hone in on during the season.
Dana Buelsing, a senior biology student with an emphasis on ecology, will serve as the assistant manager this year.
“Through this opportunity, I am learning how to make business connections,” Buelsing says; “as well as how farmers in our local community keep their farming sustainable and environmentally friendly.”
The market also received some federal funding that Lettiere hopes will increase its turnout and revenue for vendors. With the grant money, residents of Edgewater and Rogers Park will receive fliers for the market in their mailboxes to raise awareness. The grant also allows market vendors to accept LINK cards from low-income families, providing them affordable access to healthy, local, and sustainable food.
“The money that people spend at the market goes directly to the growers, to the producers, so it really supports the local food economy and [keeps] dollars local,” Lettiere says.
New this year is a special activities tent during the last hour of each market day. While some weeks there will be arts and crafts, like making Father’s Day cards, the market has partnered with the Niehoff School of Nursing students to do a community outreach with a presentation called “Stepping Out of the Pill Box and Into the Farmacy: Getting Vitamins Through Produce.”