Sunday, July 19, 2015

'Meet the Farmer' Video in the Making

Most weeks I'm at the Oak Park Farmers' Market, I'm working the info booth. But this week I got to go and just listen to the music, buy a dozen donuts (to skip the line) and pick up a dozen freshly picked ears of corn.

As much as I enjoy volunteering to support the market, it's good to be a regular customer. And because I wasn't confined to the booth, I stumbled upon Joe Kreml setting up to interview Walk Skibbe for one of the next Meet the Farmer videos.

Can't wait to see the finished project.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Thriving Music Scene at the Farmers' Market

One of my favorite things about the Oak Park market has nothing to do with the farmers or the produce. At each market there are two groups of musicians that faithfully show up, instruments in hand, to play with other like-minded musicians.

It's wonderful to see how the bluegrass band, aka The Farmers' Market Band, which has been playing for more than 30 years, has been so welcoming this year. 
And just around the corner, there's a jazzy alternative with many young percussionists accompanying. I know less about this band, though I know they've been playing for many years. I'm eager to find out more about this band, which plays on the lawn on the southwest corner of the church.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Party for a Rabbit

The week my daughter got her Holland Lop rabbit -- Phillip -- she had his birthday noted on the calendar.

And she's been counting down the days until June 25 ever since.

So here we are, with our party for a rabbit complete with:

  • Carrot cake
  • Fresh Farmers' Market fruit
  • Veggie spread

We didn't do party favors, though our guests have been painting vases, bowls and tiles to turn into coasters.

Oh, and playing with Phillip.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Four ways the Oak Park Farmers' Market is making a difference in the community

American Farmland Trust is promoting its 7th Annual farmers market celebration and is soliciting ratings from consumers about their local markets.

I'm posting in part to promote the celebration and solicit recommendations for my favorite local market. And I'm posting because the categories, while easy to rate, show how important markets can be to a community on all sorts of levels.

Disclosure: I am the current chair of the Oak Park Farmers' Market Commission, which advises the Village Trustees on market policies and oversees regular operations of the market. Views are my own. 

The simple survey allows you to recommend your market and add your take on whether your market is doing one or all of for key things. After the categories, I've added in how I think Oak Park's market is doing:

Focusing on Farmers
Farmers markets play a critical role in helping family farmers stay on their land. Does your farmers market primarily serve family farmers, and educate your community about the issues they face?

This is one of the things that distinguishes Oak Park's market, which is in its 40th season. The market is a grower's market, carefully curated to include farmers and vendors who grow their own food and products or can source their products locally. There is constant pressure to open the rules up to include a larger variety of local food businesses. It's something to consider, but with a certain level of caution. The market isn't a street fair. It's a farmers market, aimed at offering a more direct connection to the people who grow and produce the food that sustains us.

Healthy Food for All
Farmers markets bring fresh foods to neighborhoods that need it most. Does your market assist low-income neighbors, work with vulnerable seniors, donate food to local food banks or accept federal food and nutrition program benefits?

Yes! One little known fact about my local market is that the information booth processes credit card transactions on behalf of all the vendors. Even though it's a modern convenience, that wasn't the reason for the change.
  • LINK/Double Coupons -- The transactions were set up to be processed so the Oak Park market could accept LINK payments for food and edible plants from participating vendors. I was delighted to see how quickly the vendors signed up, helping broaden access to the market to low-income customers. That access increased when grant money was supplied to provide "double coupons" up to $20 per market for LINK customers. If a customer spends $20 in LINK funding, that customer is given $20 in coupons for the market, which can be used like cash throughout the season. This double coupon program has proven an enormous success. And when grant funding dried up, a handful of active residents, including a former market commissioner and former market manager, banded together to form the Shawnash Institute to continue raising funds to support the program.
  • WIC/Senior Coupons -- Many vendors at the market also accept coupon checks from the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program and accept senior coupons that can be obtained through the local Township Services.
  • Food Pantry/Dontations -- The market has long had a program overseen by the commission in which farmers are encouraged to donate excess food at the end of the market to designated recipients. The participants have changed over the years. But over the past few seasons, the primary recipients have been the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry and Hephzibah Children's Association.
Pillar of the Community
Many farmers markets are pillars of their communities. Does your market celebrate the uniqueness of your hometown? Is it the central gathering place? Does it have the full support of local elected officials?

There is no doubt that the Oak Park market is a destination event for the greater Oak Park community. With fresh donuts whose sale benefits numerous not-for-profits, and active blue-grass jam sessions, the market is inviting for regular market shoppers as well as children, older adults and anyone who wants to catch up with friends and neighbors.

Champion for the Environment
Farmers markets can be catalysts for change. Does your market limit the use of plastic bags, encourage alternative modes of transportation, or reduce food waste? Do family farmers at your market use practices that protect water, soil and wildlife habitat?

This is an area that the market and commission have identified as a focus over the last few years.

Besides sponsoring Green Days the first two markets of the season, to call attention to green-oriented local businesses, the market and Village have added municipal compost bins. We've learned though that folks don't know how to use them. So the commission is working on partnering with other entities and recruiting volunteers to help educate the community about composting and zero waste at the market.

Along those lines, the commission purchased compostable plastic bags to create awareness about the option and to begin to encourage vendors at the market to move in that direction.

On the farmer/vendor side, this has long been an interest of the commission and market manager. Most vendors selected can demonstrate their commitment to sustainable practices.

Time to Vote
That was a long way of asking you to recommend the Oak Park Farmers' Market. Here's where to vote.

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