VIDEO: Evanston farmers market celebrates 40 years of community

Asparagus was one of the only vegetables in season for sale at the market's opening day on May 9. (Sara Shouhayib/Medill)

By Sara Shouhayib

Farm Manager Philip Guida at Lake Breeze Organics farm in Benton Harbor, Michigan, unloaded Italian spinach, lettuce heads and purple passion asparagus at the Evanston Farmer’s Market Saturday.

It was opening day for the season. Guida said the Evanston market is worth the drive because of the customers.

“The organic market isn’t as big in Michigan and there’s no where you can drive in Michigan that makes it worth our time and money,” he said. “If we come here, people appreciate their fresh produce and their fresh organics stuff and they’ll give us a good price for it. Where as in Michigan it’s kind of saturated with produce and fruit and the people are used to low low, low prices in Michigan and we just can’t compete.”

Farmers from across the state and the Midwest drove hundreds of miles for the opening day – and the 40th anniversary of The Evanston Farmers’ Market.

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl rang the opening bell to kick off the event.

“The thing about the farmers market that’s so special to me is seeing old friends, making new friends. It’s a community event, it’s not just a place to go and buy stuff,” Tisdahl said.

Vendors from Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan – and most of the vendors came from Michigan – were selling asparagus, lettuce, flowers and baked goods. The majority of vegetables aren’t ready for harvest and sale yet.

Roy Elko’s farm, a farmer from Cambria, Wisconsin, has been coming to the Evanston market since it first opened in 1975.

“This is the only market that I do. I used to do Highland Park, Skokie, Dundee, Elgin – but I drive all the way from there to here. I go right past the Madison market within miles, to come here,” Elko said. “I love coming here and, like I said, I love the people that’s what makes me come back year after year.”

It’s attitudes like Elko’s that inspired Farmer Gretta Winkelbauer to drive two hours from Pecatonica, Illinois to sell her goat milk soap. This was her first time at the Evanston market.

“I chose Evanston from talking to other farmers because of their reputation for supporting local food and local farms,” Winkelbauer said.

Hahn’s Bakery located in Geneva also made its debut at the market this year, selling bread and sweets.

“We’ve heard that it’s a really good market and it’s really beautiful here, lots of traffic, get our name out there,” said Beck Nebergall, Hahn’s employee.

John Litzau, a sales representative for Lavender on the Lake located in Northwest Wisconsin returned to the Evanston market for a fourth year to sell lavender products. The farm also sells at the Frankfort, Illinois market. Overall, Litzau said their business does better in Illinois.

“I’m not sure exactly the reason for that, maybe because there’s a higher concentration of people in the areas, but we generally do better financially at both of our Illinois markets than we do in Wisconsin,” he said. “So they do very well for us. Let’s put it that way.”

The market is open every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the intersection of University Place and Oak Avenue.

Photo at top: Asparagus was one of the only vegetables in season  for sale at the market’s opening day on May 9. (Sara Shouhayib/Medill)