Smile Politely

Market Watch: Season opening, May 2024

The Urbana market has several shoppers looking at flowers, food, and art for sale in the parking lot on a sunny blue skied day.
Alyssa Buckley

I have waited all winter for opening day of our outdoor farmers’ markets, and it is finally here. This Saturday, May 4th and Tuesday, May 14th are the opening days for Champaign-Urbana’s market season. It is such a vibe to walk and shop tables of local farmers, bakers, and makers. Our markets boast Urbana-grown greens and garlic. Freshly made cheese from Champaign’s creamery and freshly baked desserts from cottage bakers, plus jars of jams and pickles and honey and eggs and pasture-raised meat. There are food trucks that serve breakfast tacos, delicious cinnamon rolls, big burritos, and more.

2024 is Urbana’s Market at the Square‘s 45th year, and the beloved market has some new vendors this year. Good Judys’ Bagels, a new cottage bagel business will bring bagels in many flavors. Other new businesses with appetizing offerings include Nolis Baked Goods, Sweet Somethings, DeLIXcious, and Elm City Coffee. Of course, returning favorites will be there on Saturdays, too. Find BakeLab‘s mini coffee shop set up at the front of the Urbana market with coffee, iced tea, and lots of yummy BakeLab treats. Every Saturday morning, Prairie Fruits Farm will be there with their award-winning cheeses. Catch Triple S Farms from Sullivan, Illinois and their cooler of organic pasture-raised meat, plus the Champaign saucemakers Weird Meat Boyz and their habanero-malört-bell pepper sauce, too.

Rain or shine, find Urbana’s Market at the Square every Saturday morning (7 a.m. to noon) in the Lincoln Square Mall parking lot, and Champaign’s The Land Connection farmers’ market every Tuesday happy hour (3 to 6 p.m.) in Downtown Champaign’s parking lot M.

Each month in this column, I’ll share delicious things to find at the C-U farmers’ markets, trying to focus on what’s in season. Ahead of opening, here’s a look at five market must-visits, plus my favorite market street food.

Market Must-Visits

A stack of bright blue shopping baskets at the Central Illinois Bakehouse stand at the Urbana Market at the Square.
Alyssa Buckley

Central Illinois Bakehouse

Is it a C-U farmers’ market without the blue bread tables of Central Illinois Bakehouse? Nope, because the Champaign bakery is always at the market, both markets all season long. Last summer, CI Bakehouse changed up their market setup from order-at-the-register to an al fresco bread browsing situation, and it’s the BEST. They sell loaves of bread, sliced sandwich bread, bagels, buns, pretzel sticks, crackers, croissants, croughnuts (doughnuts made with croissant dough), and more.

Two white baskets of individually packaged sugar cookies. The ones on the left are tri-colored popsciles and the ones on the right are yellow suns.
Sugar cookies by Central Illinois Bakehouse; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

I am particularly amused by the bakery’s different seasonal cookies each week. These cute sugar cookies are a splurge, but my kid absolutely adores these cookies. They’re adorable but no matter the fun colors and designs, the cookies (and frosting) always taste like vanilla.

Garlic in a wicker basket for sale at the farmers' market. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Garlic from Sola Gratia Farm; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Sola Gratia Farm

One farm we’ll see at both C-U farmers’ markets is Sola Gratia Farm. This Urbana farm grows all kinds of produce, and the farmers working the booth like to chat about the produce, how to store it, how to prepare it, how they like to cook it. I think Sola Gratia grows the best garlic ever — so pungent and flavorful; it’s a must when I see their basket of garlic. Sola Gratia has been farming in Urbana since 2012 and recently had a 29-acre expansion to the farm. Every week at both markets, the farm offers a bounty of Urbana-grown produce, bringing more and more variety as the season progresses. For more about the local farm, check out Julie’s interview with the farm director.

Several bunches asparagus for sale at the farmers' market.
Asparagus by Ben & Molly’s Farm; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Ben & Molly’s Farm

Ben & Molly’s Farm (formerly Meyer Produce) brings fresh veggies and fruit grown on their Villa Grove farm and orchard. Their adorably branded farm table will also be at both markets from now until October. The owners Ben and Molly Oberg are always there on Saturdays and love to chat with customers when there’s no line. The farmers are big on connecting people to food they eat, so the farm’s Instagram frequently shows behind-the-scenes about what they grow on the farm, real time planting and blooming updates, plus sneak peeks of what’s coming to the C-U markets in their cute yellow truck. For more about this farm, check out my interview with the owner.

Many oddly shaped tomatoes for sale in a brown basket.
Alyssa Buckley

Fruitful Vines

Though we’ve yet to reach peak tomato season, there are still some vibrant tomatoes at the market this month — though stock will be small in May. Out of Sullivan, Illinois, Fruitful Vines is a small farm whose main thing is tomato, so they will have tomatoes for sale. Of all the variety of tomatoes they offer, I recommend the small and ugly ones. These tomatoes are cheaper, wrinkled, or perhaps unevenly grown, but they don’t taste yucky. They’re just imperfect — and aren’t we all?

Several bunches of greens for sale at the market on a sunny day.
Alyssa Buckley

Green G Farm

Another market must is Green G Farm, the Villa Grove farm owned by the same family who owns Downtown Champaign’s Sticky Rice restaurant. Green G Farm’s market tables aren’t fancy, and the signs are hand-written, but the farm sells super fresh, delicious greens, beans, and herbs at low prices. And just between you and me, there is no better basil than theirs.

Strawberries in teal paper baskets on a foldable white table.
Alyssa Buckley

A general market heads up: when strawberries come to the market, buy them right away. Strawberries are quite popular, same with raspberries. Across all vendors’ tables, berries do sell out, and sometimes even before sleepyheads make it to the market. So if there’s a table with fresh berries for sale, and your heart says, “I want some fresh berries,” best to buy them right then.

My favorite street food snack at the markets

A beef handpie from Stango Cuisine at the Urbana Market at the Square. Photo by Alyssa Buckley
Beef handpie from Stango Cuisine; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Lastly, I’ll leave you with my favorite street food snack at the markets: Stango Cuisine’s beef handpie. It’s my favorite snack to eat at the markets because it’s served warm and tastes so delicious. The savory handpie has a crumbled beef filling packed with Zambian spices surrounded by a buttery pastry with a delicate, soft flakiness. It’s a perfect snack to nibble on as I wander the market, and it feels way more substantial than a muffin (no hate to muffins!). Stango Cuisine offers this beef handpie at both markets, which is also why this snack is my favorite; it’s reliable. Stango’s market menu includes other handpie flavors (chicken and vegetarian) in addition to beignets, samosas, and ginger juice, too.

C-U farmers' market early morning with vendors ready for shoppers
Alyssa Buckley

Urbana’s Market at the Square

The Urbana Market has been in continuous operation since 1979. The market runs from May to October, each Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine. It’s located at the corner of Illinois and Vine in Urbana.

Forms of payment: Cash, credit, debit, or SNAP.

SNAP/LINK: Vendors selling LINK-eligible foods accept LINK tokens. Please visit Urbana’s Market at the Square website for specifics, or the information tent on site.

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.

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

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

The outdoor farmers market in Parking Lot M of Downtown Champaign has several shoppers walking through the market of vendors.
Alyssa Buckley

The Land Connection Champaign Farmers’ Market

The Land Connection’s Champaign Farmers’ Market is on their eighth year. The Champaign Market is open on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. starting on May 14th. The Champaign Farmers’ Market will take place in parking lot M in Downtown Champaign at Neil and Washington.

Forms of Payment: Pre-ordering, cash, credit cards, debit cards, or SNAP/EBT cards.

SNAP/LINK: All eligible vendors accept SNAP benefits through the LINK token program. Please visit The Land Connection website for specifics.

Parking: Metered parking is available in parking lot M or in the Hill Street Parking Deck.

Pets: Leashed doggies are welcome.

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

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

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