Winter Fresh At the Farmers Market

Just because the fields are bare in winter doesn’t mean our local farmers have nothing to do. Step inside any of our region’s top indoors markets and you’ll be tempted by a wide array of fresh produce, meats, eggs, baked goods, and much, much more – all of it offered by local businesses that pride themselves on offering fresh-from-the-farm goodness.

It’s no secret that the farmers market is a prime place to stock up on farm-fresh sweet corn, apples, peaches and all variety of produce – not to mention related items like preserves, plants, floral bouquets and baked goods. Think of it like one big, open-air grocery store, except it’s all farmers and producers who typically live within an hour’s drive.

But even if the cornfields are barren this time of year it doesn’t mean our local farmers are just sitting around. Far from it. Some of your favorite markets actually head indoors for the winter, and the harvest is no less impressive than it is in the summer. Root vegetables, hydroponically grown greens, meat and eggs, fresh-from-the-oven breads and cookies, preserves and many other goodies await.

Not only are these markets good for finding fresh, healthy foods, but they’re also a fun, family-friendly outing where there’s always something new to discover.

Woodstock Indoors Market

Select Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m., November through April, at McHenry County Fairgrounds

Around McHenry County, the Woodstock market is considered a gold standard after decades of gathering year-round. In the colder months, vendors move from the Woodstock Square to Building D at the county fairgrounds.

At least 60% of vendors are farmers, so you’re guaranteed to find things like apples, hydroponically or greenhouse-grown produce, canned or preserved vegetables, meats and eggs. There are also folks selling things like cheese, olive oil, craft beer, baked goods, granola, hot soup and more.

Amy Fowler has been a familiar face at the market for more than six years, and her company, Mimi’s Pet Treats, is a go-to station for many pet owners.

“I source my meat locally and dehydrate it myself, and it’s very popular with the dogs,” she says. “I also sell smoked bones, dehydrated things like pig ears and chicken feet. I get a few interesting stares from people when they walk by the booth. They’re like, ‘Did I just see a chicken foot?’ Yes, yes you did.”

And that’s a true advantage of the market. Fowler and her fellow producers are eager to share whatever answers their shoppers may seek. Fowler can tell you where she sources, how she makes her product and what else is in her treats.

About 30 vendors gather inside from January through April, and most come from within 90 miles. This is a producer-run market, so there’s careful vetting of every vendor. Founder Keith Johnson visits every farm and operation to ensure quality for consumers and reinforce the value of supporting local.

“People don’t seem to realize the importance of local farmers,” Fowler says. “If the local farmers are gone tomorrow, the prices in the store are going to go up. I think a lot of people may have realized that with the recent pandemic because prices did go up. It was harder to get things. If we were to support our local farmers a little more, our food will be more accessible.”

Farmers Market+ in The Dole

Every other Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at The Dole in Crystal Lake

John Kasperk and his colleagues at River Valley Ranch hit nearly 30 markets this year, but none has quite the vibe of Crystal Lake’s newest one. The Dole’s Farmers Market+ has a block party feel to it, with kids activities, farmers, food trucks and other vendors inside and around the historical Dole Mansion. About 40 vendors, plus live entertainers, have been gathering indoors this winter.

“The access to the surrounding neighborhood means lots of people walk over, and they come with dogs and strollers and kids on bikes,” Kasperk says. “It’s nice to see the whole family come through the market.”
Shoppers are encouraged to linger, thanks in part to good smells and the cash bar.

And it’s easy to find something new on every visit. River Valley Ranch is a mushroom farm in Burlington, Wis., and while Kasperk sells several types of mushrooms year-round, he also sells mushroom salsas, mushroom burgers, pasta sauces and frozen soups.

After 20 years of working these markets – he got his start in Woodstock at age 15 – Kasperk still loves that moment when people realize what farm fresh really means.

“Oh, there’s a huge taste difference, and I enjoy when I can convince people to buy mushrooms,” Kasperk says. “They might cost a little more at the markets, but the quality and the taste are a step above what you’re getting elsewhere. The biggest comment I get is, ‘Wow, I bought those mushrooms two weeks ago and they’re still in my fridge and they still look good.’”

Proceeds from the market support Service League of Crystal Lake and continued upkeep of the 160-year-old mansion. This new market has been a labor of love for its organizers, sisters Linda Wozniak and Sharon LeCoque.

“When Charles Dole bought this land, he owned over 1,000 acres, including the lake,” says LeCoque. “He started an ice harvesting business that provided ice blocks for refrigeration, and they were transported by train all across the Midwest. He was also a grain merchant, and he was on the committee that developed the grain grading system for the Chicago Board of Trade. It’s still in place today. This property was known as Lakeland Farm. It’s a cool tie-in that we are now hosting a farmers market on the land that used to be Lakeland Farm. We like to think Mr. Dole would be happy to see the property being used in this way for the community to enjoy.”

Lake Zurich Indoor Market

First, third and fifth Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at Paulus Park Chalet in Lake Zurich

For nearly eight years, this market has drawn families for a Sunday outing. The setting is small and personable.
“It has a strong community feel that I haven’t seen in a lot of other places,” says Maryam Wood, co-owner of Middleton’s Preserves. “You have people who are like, ‘I waited all week to come.’ There’s an anticipation. You have people who are there for specific things and people who just want to be out of the house.”

Set inside a community park with views of the lake, this market has just eight to 10 vendors, but there’s a surprising array of food represented. Wood sells fresh produce from her Wadsworth farm and a network of similar microfarms. Her fellow vendors supply baked goods, jerky, hydroponically grown greens and other treats. Event organizer Nick Janovski sells meat and eggs as Farmer Nick.

Glenn D. Gonzalez and his Azteca Catering Co. sell homemade salsas and nine types of tamales to-go.
“I think it’s very important for people to realize that we’re a small business, and we really need the support,” he says. “We try to give the best-quality products at the best price available, taking into consideration we have a product to make and expenses to pay.”

Not only do dollars at the market support these small businesses, but they also reduce the number of miles food travels from the farm to your plate – a critical factor given recent product shortages.

“By supporting local, you’re ensuring that you’re eating healthier and you’re continuing to ensure that we, as small farmers and producers, have the ability to provide your food,” says Wood. “Ninety percent of the food at the grocery stores travels at least a few hundred miles, minimum.”

Those who can’t make the market on Sundays don’t have to miss out. Many vendors are happy to connect via their websites, social media or the market’s Facebook page.

Huntley Indoor Farmers Market

Second Saturday of the month, November to May, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Legion Hall downtown

Huntley’s indoor market carries a wide variety of local products including honey, jams, meat, produce, handmade home decor and loose teas.

“We have 15 vendors inside, which is capacity,” says Barb Read, Special Events Manager for the Village of Huntley. “We also have two die-hard vendors who set up outside.”

One of them is Marcy Prchal, owner of Trogg’s Hollow Farm, a community-supported agriculture and market farm in Poplar Grove. Prchal and her family brave the cold outside the Huntley Legion to sell chemical-free produce, farm-fresh eggs, chicken, pork, breads and preserves.

“We started setting up outside last year because of COVID,” says Prchal. “But we’ve also found that it’s better for us because we’ve got stuff that’s happy in the cold, anyway. I feel like our sales, being outside, have gone up because we’re the first thing people see.”

Visitors will find a family-friendly atmosphere indoors, where there’s plenty of camaraderie among regular customers and vendors.

“Everybody knows everyone by name here,” says Read. “If we have a regular who doesn’t come two times in a row, people will ask if they’re OK. To have that small-time charm is very heartwarming.”

For Prchal, the market’s popularity highlights the impact local vendors have on healthy eating.

“What you’re buying from us is more nutrient-dense because it’s freshly harvested,” she says. “You’re getting something that hasn’t had time to lose its nutrients from just sitting around.”

The Huntley Indoor Farmers Market also holds hourly drawings, where customers can win gift cards from surrounding local businesses.

“When someone wins the draw, another local business gets a chance to be seen for the first time,” says Read. “Our businesses really mean a lot to us. We want to make sure that everyone knows about them.”

Batavia Indoor Market

Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 160 First St., downtown.

Batavia’s outdoor farmers market just celebrated its 26th year last summer. Its wintertime counterpart is a little younger.

“This is our second year in this location,” says Kathy Kuchta, Farmers’ Market Coordinator for Batavia MainStreet, which organizes the event. “We were fortunate enough to get the location last year, which gave us a lot of space for social distancing.”

Through May, the market remains inside a beautiful, 4,600-square-foot limestone building in the heart of Batavia’s downtown.

The market features around 28 farmers, bakers and makers each week, as they sell a variety of products like locally grown produce, farm-raised meats, eggs, baked goods, honey, handmade bath and body products, coffee, kombucha and CBD products for humans and pets.

David Parkinson and Kristina Neville own Accelerate Microgreen Health, a local family-owned and -operated company that grows over 35 varieties of organic microgreens. As relative newcomers to the indoor market, they’ve already seen firsthand the impact it’s had on the surrounding area.

“Batavia’s market is a really tight-knit community,” says Neville. “It’s very positive, as far as participating in it as a vendor.”

Visitors will appreciate the ample parking outside, as well as the open space inside a limestone building that boasts plenty of character. The market is also close to downtown’s other local businesses, so there’s plenty of incentive to support local entrepreneurs all day long.

“When you’re supporting someone local, a greater percentage of your money stays right here, in the community,” says Kuchta.

“It’s super important, in this day and age, to support small businesses,” adds Parkinson. “There’s also a freshness aspect. You’re getting something that is locally produced, and you can track it from start to finish. You know that it comes from your area from people you know and trust. I think that’s really important.”

St. Charles Farmers Market

Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon at Baker Memorial Methodist Church

This blended market sells food-related items alongside artisan crafts, health products, clothing and jewelry.
“When customers come to the market, they can expect something pretty unique,” says Robert Murphy, market manager.

Among the vendors is Mid-Valley Education Cooperative’s Mid-Valley Marketplace, part of a unique work-readiness program for young adults with disabilities.

“The kids make handmade cards and cookies,” says Murphy. “The cards are just beautiful and very reasonably priced. Some of our vendors will buy the cards and include them in their orders.”

Also among the vendors is Grandma’s Farm Fresh Eggs, a family-owned farm that has been operating since 1868. Now in its sixth generation, the farm is run by Bonnie Ogle and her family. They’re longtime vendors at the summertime outdoor market and have recently started selling indoors, as well.

“We offer eggs from several species of poultry, including chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and guineas, depending on the season,” says Ogle. “We also do beekeeping, so we have honey. We also keep sheep (for both fiber and meat) and some Jersey cows.”

For Ogle, the advantage of purchasing from a farmers market is the ability to ask important questions about a vendor’s wares.

“A customer can ask us, ‘How do you raise your chickens?’” Ogle says. “They can ask us if we put additives in our feed or chemicals on our pasture. The answer is no to both. People are seeking out things that are local because they can talk directly to the producer.”

Murphy agrees that the best way to buy food is to speak with the farmer.

“Know your farmer, know your food,” says Murphy. “Our market is the quintessential way to do that. We’re kind of the lifeblood for smaller farms. All we need now is a lot more customers.”