We've had snow and 80 degree weather, all before our farmers' markets open for the season — at least Central Illinois is never boring! Our farmers' markets are getting set to open this week. There are two farmers markets in C-U. Appropriately, one is in Urbana (Urbana's Market at the Square) and one is in Champaign (The Land Connection Farmers' market). The markets are both really great, if a bit different in focus and feel. The markets start this week and you can check them both out and pick a favorite, or just attend both to pick up what you forgot to get at the market you planned to attend.

Please note that the above dates are not for 2018!

Urbana's Market at the Square starts this Saturday, May 5th, and runs every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine, until October 27th. This market is located outside Lincoln Square Mall (the corner of Illinois and Vine) and has been in operation for over 40 years. The Urbana market has weekly activities, including music performances, free art projects, and programming for kids. The Urbana Free Library has partnered with the market the last couple of years and they often have crafts and story time. There have also been some chef demonstrations in the last couple of seasons, although I think that is just the Urbana market catching up to the Champaign market.

The Urbana market features over three rows of vendors, although many do not attend the whole season. Some of the mainstays of the local agricultural community, such as Triple S and Prairie Fruits Farms, are very visible at this market, along with newcomers like Sugar by Sarah and Pandamonium Doughnuts, which are now market staples. One of the reasons I really like this market is the wide variety of things that you can browse. There is a lot of produce, honey, eggs, meat, and flowers, but there are also food trucks, vendors with homemade and upcycled goods, and even local artists who sell at the market. Also, the market has a whole community row that showcases all that Champaign-Urbana has to offer: political organizations, churches, university groups, and a bunch of other stuff can be found in this row. It’s always interesting to see what is happening our community.

Also, the food trucks and other ready made baked goods make this a great place to get some grub and people watch for a while. Overall, this market is an institution in Urbana. There have been some leadership changes with Bryan Heaton taking over as market director from Natalie Kenney Marquez, and I’ll be interested to see what changes are coming this year. I hope they don’t take away the bird logo!

The Land Connection's Downtown Champaign Tuesday Market has come into existence a bit more recently, but in the last couple of years has seen a lot of growth. This market kicks off on May 15th and is every Tuesday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Downtown Champaign's parking lot M (Hill and Neil) starting on May 15th. This market also boasts some really great vendors, including some less established vendors who are working to become more connected to the community. One of the things I really love about this market is that, thanks to director Sarah Simeziane and her staff, there are a lot of really fun and quirky things that happen at this market, like their staff dressing up as eggplants at a recent popup event on May 1st at Watson's, or dog costume contests on their Instagram page.

Last year this market also added more events including a free program for kids called Market Seedlings. I feel like this market has a great sense of humor and is really fun to just browse around at as well, and they are fun to follow on social media. There is a great variety of buskers and facepainting so it's great for kids, and there is a wide selection of produce as the season goes on. Also, don't miss The Pop Stop, a vendor with all kinds of popsicles, including some made of pop, which is pretty fun. I think that people tend to drop in after work and pick things up on their way home, so the traffic tends to be a bit more steady as opposed to the Saturday Urbana market which becomes crowded around 10 a.m. and is a bit harder to navigate. 

Either way, we are certainly spoiled for choice in the C-U area with two great markets! Which ever one fits your schedule, you really cannot go wrong here. 

The first market of the season tends to be a bit less crowded and has less produce than later months so don't judge the produce selection on the first market, but it’s so nice to get out in the nice weather, hear some music, and know that spring in Central Illinois has finally arrived! 

C-U at the Markets!

Urbana’s Market at the Square Info

The Urbana Market is one of the largest farmers' markets and has been in continuous operation since 1979. The market runs from May 5th to October 27th, each Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine.

Forms of payment: All vendors accept cash, and a few may take checks. Some vendors have card readers on their smart phones. Vendors selling LINK-eligible foods will accept LINK tokens, and there are some vendors who accept SNAP. If you run out of cash at the Market, there is an ATM in the Lincoln Square Mall.

Parking: Free parking is available in the parking lots surrounding Lincoln Square Mall and the lot south of Illinois Street. Bike parking is also available at the entrances to the mall and at the bike corral area past the entrance to the Market off of Illinois.

Social Media: You can follow the Market on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sign up for weekly Market emails here

Pets: No pets allowed. Please respect the market’s rules and leave Fido at home.

The Land Connection Champaign Farmers’ Market

The Champaign Market is Tuesday evenings from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the parking lot at Hill or Main and Neil Street in Downtown Champaign.

Forms of Payment: Vendors take mostly cash, but some do take cards on their smart phones. If you run out of cash, there are ATMs close by in the Busey building on University, or at the PNC location on Main and Walnut. 

Parking: Parking is available in parking lot M off of Neil Street, or in the Hill Street Parking Deck.

Pets: Dogs are welcome at this market, but must be leashed.

Social Media: Follow The Land Connection on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or check the website for more information.

Photos by Jessica Hammie