By Alison Martin
It’s 10 a.m. on a cloudy and cold Sunday morning. North Milwaukee Avenue is quiet. If it were summer, shoppers with the cloth bags would be lining up to get into the Logan Square Farmers Market, but in January, the scene is much different.
Still, it’s Sunday, and the Logan Square Farmers Market is indeed open for business. Though the crowds may be smaller, vendors at the market have plenty of good reasons to be here.
Winter months usher in new vendors and give them a chance to adjust to the market scene before the summer crowds arrive. This past Sunday, CEO and founder of Metropolitan Farms Benjamin Kant made his second appearance at the farmers market. He is one of the only vendors selling leafy greens and herbs.
“I thought we would have an advantage,” Kant said.
With a background in finance and a love for growing, Kant started his farm just one year ago. Using an aquaponic system–a combination of fish farming and a hydroponic growing system– Metropolitan Farms produces herbs, lettuce and fish year-round without using chemicals.
“Our process is inherently organic,” he said, “no pesticides or insecticides.”
Nicole Moore is the new operations assistant at Sitka Salmon Shares, and last Sunday was her first day tabling for the company at Logan Square.
“This is a really exciting business,” she said, “and I think people are excited about it.”
Based in Galesburg, Ill., Sitka Salmon Shares delivers “blast-frozen vacuum-sealed wild Alaskan coho fillets to friends, family, and co-workers in the Midwest,” says its website. People who own shares in the company get a wide range of fish delivered directly to them throughout the year.
“It’s all sustainable and environmentally friendly,” Moore adds.
Thought the crowd is smaller in winter, Moore is not deterred.
“I’m eager for more foot traffic,” she said, “but I’m hoping it’ll pick up.”
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Jordan Koster of Geneva Lakes Produce in Wisconsin has a unique advantage. His stand is the only one selling potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts, and he said the demand in the winter keeps the company coming back every week.
For Koster, the farmers market provides better communication opportunities than wholesale trade.
“Wholesale is easier to do, but you don’t get that one-on-one interaction,” he said.
With smaller crowds, vendors have more time to meet and chat with each other. Kevin Bartlett, the “sauce boss” of Co-op Sauce, said that participating in the farmers market help his company secure more peppers to meet the demand.
Co-op Image, a free arts and entrepreneurship organization, first started producing Co-op Sauce back in 2003. The nonprofit organization grew peppers in its Humboldt Park garden and started selling the sauce at the farmers market in 2008. When the demand for the sauce grew beyond the garden’s capabilities, the organization worked with vendors at the market to buy more peppers.
Bartlett, who’s been working the market for three years, says the crowd is “obviously a little better in the summer,” but smaller crowds give him more time to tell customers about the Co-op’s popular mole sauce and the nonprofit’s cafe, the Sauce and Bread Kitchen.
Lisa Kai visits the Logan Square Farmers Market every other week, and it’ll take more than a freezing wind chill to deter her.
“Supermarkets are gross,” Kai said. “I’d rather buy from people I know.”