There's a timeless feel to what goes on among the old warehouse buildings down in the Haymarket on Saturdays during the summer and fall—a local community coming together, folks from both the city and the farm, enjoying the exchange of hand-crafted and homegrown goods. Every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, from May 3 through the summer and fall, the streets of the Haymarket will once again close to traffic and fill with local produce, fresh-baked goods and crafts, and of course, the crowds of people who thrive on the festive atmosphere that surrounds the Haymarket Farmer's Market.
Anyone who grew up on or near a farm, or who has benefited from a friend's over-abundant garden knows that there is something special about produce that was in the ground just a day or so ago. You can expect a different flavor from zucchini that has dirt still clinging to it or a tomato that smells pungently like....a tomato. Farmers and gardeners from all over the area get up at the crack of dawn to load their trucks with fresh seasonal produce, and some of the favorites (like sweet corn) can go pretty fast.
Louie Hanson and his wife Arla, of Fairbury, started bringing their metal crafts and custom lawn signs to sell at the market in 2002, and the appeal of the farmer's market is no mystery to him. “I'm sure it's relaxing for people who have to work in an office all week to come and get a good dose of the outdoors. We don't understand that, living in the country, but for us it's our excuse to go to the big city, catch up with the people we know, and of course make a little money on the side.”
Louie and Arla drive from Fairbury as early as 5:30 a.m. to ensure lots of time to set up and shoot the breeze before the opening whistle blows at 8:00. Louie has become such a fixture at the market that manager Linda Hubka designated him the official opening whistle-blower.
Linda came on board as the on-site market manager in 2001, and she and business manager Jeff Cunningham have since worked tirelessly to preserve the tradition while allowing the market to grow and adapt to the city as it changes. The last few years those changes have come in the form of construction on the Pinnacle Bank Arena and West Haymarket development. Before it was the Railyard, the block northwest of the market was a big parking lot they could use, and they feel that loss keenly. On the flipside, the farmer's market now has the go-ahead to expand into Canopy Street if needed, although Linda's not sure how much of that new space will be filled this year.
Even the inconveniences of construction and volatile weather haven't frustrated the momentum of the farmer's market, in Linda's experience. “One of the biggest surprises is how well we get through the challenges. We've set up in rain that turned into a downpour, then stood in water nearly up to our knees watching flats of plants go floating by.” With 24 markets to schedule every year from May through October, in a state where weather is unpredictable at best, they have never canceled. Rain or shine, the tents go up, and people do come.
Photo Credit: Christina Case