Why I Love Farmers’ Markets

Logan Square market
The vegetables were piled high at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market.

My daughters grew up going to the Northfield Farmers’ Market. It was a highlight of many Friday mornings and often involved a bike ride, our baskets filled with vegetables on the way home and a treat from Martha’s Eats and Treats. So, it was no surprise when my eldest, now a Chicago-based editor, said, “I want you and Dad to come to my farmers’ market when you visit.”

Kale burgers, anyone?

So on the Sunday before Labor Day, we ventured out on the Blue Line to Logan Square and her farmers’ market.

Here’s the great thing about farmers’ markets: Each one is unique to its neighborhood and customers, and at the same time, they all have the same comfortable, welcoming feeling.  The Northfield farmers’ markets (we really have two) don’t feature kale burgers or a wide array of flavored tofus and sauces to sample, and I don’t think any of the jam purveyors here would charge $9 a jar, but both the very hip, very urban Logan Square market and our decidedly small-town markets are relaxed and cheerful. They both have farmers eager to show you what they’ve grown and artisans proud of the food they’ve made whether it’s a ruggedly shaped loaf of bread, an apple butter made of apples and apples only (we bought three jars) or those aforementioned tofu squares. The vendors come farther to go to the Logan market — many from Michigan and Indiana — but they bring with them the same enthusiasm for beautifully displayed beets, bunches of kale, buckets of tomatoes and sharing what they’ve grown.

Farmers’ markets are also wonderful places for socializing and connecting with your community. In Northfield, I know several of the vendors and almost always meet a friend or acquaintance at the market. At Logan, my husband and I sat on a park bench while our daughter finished her weekly produce shopping and struck up a conversation with a young mother, who grew up nearby. It turns out she attended the University of Minnesota and had even visited one of the colleges in Northfield — “That was too rural for me,” she said.

Tiny guitarist performs.

The people watching can’t be beat either. In Northfield, we have regular musicians at both the Friday and Saturday markets, and while they might be a tad more musically proficient than this little solo performer at Logan, they take the same joy sharing their talents. Farmers’ markets are places filled with dogs (labs in Northfield, pugs in Logan) and kids (more kids in Northfield, more dogs in Logan). They’re places to wander on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, to visit with folks you’ve just met and those you’re known for decades.

They’re nourishing places, and not just because of the kale.


The Power of Gardening in Community

Who wouldn't enjoy talking gardening with their neighbor in this setting?

If there is one thing I took away from my weekend in Buffalo with my fellow garden bloggers (other than a serious case of plant envy — which will be discussed at length later), it is the conviction that gardens really do have the power to bring communities together. We toured several gardens in different neighborhoods that will be part of the Buffalo Garden Walk the last weekend in July, when about 350 gardens in the area are opened to visitors. The tour is free, and any homeowner can put his or her garden on the tour.  Nearly 50,000 people take the tour each year, making it the biggest garden tour in the U.S.  The openness of the tour guarantees that the garden walk is not just a tour of show-places, but a tour of neighborhoods and the gardens and homes that give them character.

We spent most of a rainy morning in the Cottage District, an area of former workers’ cottages. It’s not a high-end neighborhood at all, and in fact, was considered something of a problem area with many abandoned or rundown properties. But, the neighbors began organizing, getting to know each other, and part of that involved sharing their gardens—with each other and with the larger community. Some of the gardens such as the one pictured at left are magazine-worthy places; others more modest, but still lovely and obviously a reflection of the homeowners pride in their place.

When you garden, you cannot help but notice your neighbor’s garden, too. That leads to questions, conversations, trading plants, grousing about weeds and critters and exchanging ideas. Before you know it, your neighbors are much more than just the guys or gals who live next door — they’re friends, people you care about. The presence of that sharing was evident in the Cottage District — many gardeners grew the same plants, though each garden reflected the aesthetic and interests of its owners as well as the unique site in which it was located. (Imagine gardening with a brick tower over looking your space.) There was a synergy in their gardens — and in their neighborhood.

In its most basic form, that synergy is the power of gardening in community, a power that residents of Buffalo are clearly harnessing.