Illinois is well known across the country for its proud agricultural heritage, but, make no mistake: It’s not all corn growing in those beautifully bucolic fields. The Land of Lincoln is also the land of soybeans, wheat, oats and an array of fruits, vegetables and meats. The farm-to-table movement has put the state’s artisanal food producers in the spotlight, and some of the best opportunities to meet these growers and purveyors are at Illinois’ farmers’ markets. Find some of the state’s most diversely abundant markets from Chicago to Carbondale and beyond.
Chicago’s Green City Market was founded by chef/author/entrepreneur Abby Mandel in 1998 as a gathering of local growers in an alleyway next to the Chicago Theatre in the Loop. Now, a visit to the Lincoln Park or West Loop markets from May to October is a lesson in sensory overload. Hundreds of farmers and food purveyors from across the region set up shop, selling everything from in-season fruits and veggies to meat and seafood, butter, cheese, eggs and ready-to-eat treats. From November through April, the market moves indoors to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, bringing a ray of sunshine to the cold weather months with a selection of seasonal produce and artisanal food products.
Illinois’ oldest farmers’ market—founded in 1912—is now held in three locations on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from mid-June through mid-October all across town. Patrons flock to these events (including the bustling Saturday morning market at the downtown Aurora Transportation Center) to find goodies like just-picked produce, preserves, artisan cheeses and old world breads. Chat with local farmers, listen to live music and shop for handcrafted goods during these weekly mini-festivals of food and fun.
Stroll through this pleasant North Shore suburb of Chicago every Wednesday evening mid-June through August during the Highwood Evening Market. The town comes alive with this outdoor soiree in Everts Park, complete with goods from farmers and locally made cheeses, pastas, pastries, jams, honey, oils and sauces. Make a night of it by sampling food and drinks from local restaurants, dancing under the charming gazebo hosting local bands, and indulging the kiddos with activities such as face painting and pony rides.
Continue your North Shore market excursion in Lake Forest, one of Chicago’s most established and scenic suburbs. Elawa Farm, a pastoral 16-acre property styled in the manner of an early 20th-century gentlemen’s farm in the heart of town, hosts a weekly garden market Fridays and Saturdays from mid-May through October. An array of seasonal veggies and fresh-cut flowers grown on the farm are on offer, as well as treats from The Kitchen, Elawa Farm’s restaurant featuring farm-to-table cuisine from acclaimed chef Steve Chiappetti.
This evening market draws crowds from across the area to downtown Rockford every Friday from late May through September. Bushels, barrels and booths overflow with farm-fresh produce from local growers such as Gustafson Farms and Orchard Ridge Farms. Artists show off their jewelry and woodcrafts to the mingling masses. Adding to the convivial neighborhood atmosphere is a packed roster of live music, kids’ entertainment and food demos.
The adage “shop local” takes on even more meaning at this Central Illinois marketplace, where locals and visitors alike gather to discover what’s in season each week. You may even spy a chef or two browsing the stalls for their evening’s ingredients! Hundreds of vendors from the region gather along the RiverFront every Saturday morning from late May to late September, presenting everything from ripe fruits and veggies to farm-fresh eggs, local meats, artisan breads and handmade cheeses.
Since 1979, Urbana’s Market at the Square has brought the community together to connect with local growers and artisans, fostering a sense of community. Thousands of people congregate every week at this downtown event, which starts in May and continues through early November. One of Illinois’ largest and most diverse farmers’ markets, Urbana’s Market at the Square hosts more than 150 vendors who bring with them fresh produce, meat, dairy products, honey, local beer and wine, flowers and handmade arts and crafts, all for your browsing and buying pleasure.
For nearly 20 years, Springfield has been a gathering spot for Illinois farmers to sell their goods at the Old State Capitol Farmers Market. This year’s market hosts more than 50 vendors in downtown Springfield every Wednesday and Saturday from mid-May through October. Shop an abundance of produce, cheeses, baked goods and meats, as well as covetable items from local artisans. Chef demos will inspire you with culinary concepts for what to do with all of those yummy ingredients you just picked up.
Homegrown and handmade are the buzzwords at this sprawling Southwest Illinois market. Held Wednesdays and Saturdays from June through mid-October, this popular downtown Alton event is a hub of activity thanks to a wide variety of locally grown seasonal fruit and vegetables, including heirloom varieties and organic crops. Once you’ve stocked up on produce, browse stand after stand of fresh flowers and plants, grass-fed meats, local honey and baked goods from River City Savories. Artwork and gift items such as stained glass, pottery and handmade soaps add even more flavor to this feast for the senses.
Travel to the southern tip of the state to experience this flourishing market, where the freshest and finest produce grown in Southern Illinois plays the starring role. A select group of eclectic local farmers and producers gather from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday from April through November to offer everything from fruits, veggies and eggs to seafood, sausages and gluten-free baked goods from La Colina Linda. Carbondale non-profit organizations also have a presence at the market, connecting and growing with the community.
A trip criss-crossing the state exploring and experiencing farmers’ markets is a great way to get to know the area’s agricultural identity, which we’re happy to say is alive and well in Illinois.