Well, the Illinois Marathon certainly didn’t keep the crowds away from the Market last weekend. Though the weather is anticipated to be cool and windy for this Saturday’s Market, it’s going to be sunny and traditionally spring-like; fittingly, the weekend’s events seem to be plant sales, not road-blocking races. Not to be outdone by the plant sales, the Market will be full of vegetable starts, herbs, bedding plants, flowers, etc as well, so make sure you check there for that elusive heirloom tomato or hot pepper.
As far fresh produce goes, strawberries were sighted at last week’s Market, and they weren’t an anomaly — expect to see more and more strawberries as the season progresses. Get to the Market early if you wish to partake this early in the season, though. Asparagus continues to go strong — incredibly strong. As a matter of fact, this much asparagus has not been seen at the Market in ages. You have to buy some, y’all. If you get stuck for things to do with asparagus (Market Watch could eat it off the grill for all eternity and be happy), try this website for a bunch of different recipes.
Other produce includes salad mix, head lettuces, radishes, rainbow chard, green onions, spinach, rapini, rhubarb, celery, and fresh cut herbs. The goat cheese this time of year is incredible (MW prefers the chevre). Eggs, plenty of meats, honey — this ridiculous bounty is all farm-raised by people in Illinois that are actually available for conversation at the Market.
In other news, last week’s Market saw a huge hit with the Veggie Trails folks — there was a line. The whole time. A LINE. The line was constant to the point where crowd control measures will need to be taken, which means one thing: Market patrons like their “vegetarian cowboy cuisine.”
Just follow your nose to Row 5, and form your lines so people can get through and into the row. There are also some fantastic new meat vendors in the Market; every one of the Market’s meat vendors has something different to offer, whether it’s the type of feed they use with their livestock, if the livestock is pastured or not, etc. Always, always ask your grower if you have questions! And, oh yes, that new Amish baker in Row three slayed MW with the pumpkin bars and the snickerdoodles.
The Market will be introducing its credit/debit/LINK acceptance program this week. If you’re a LINK user, or you ran out of cash buying Kettle Korn, or forgot to get cash on your way to the Market, or you want to use a credit card for that cool wooden bowl or batik shirt, fret not — you can bring your card to the City tent at the northwest corner of the Market, where it will be swiped on a credit card machine (credit/debit transactions will have a $1.00 convenience fee attached). Upon approval, you’ll receive your requested amount in tokens that can be used as money within the Market at every vendor. Tokens imprinted in green are for LINK-eligible foods only; tokens imprinted in orange are good for anything and everything at the Market — look for the signs at vendor booths telling you which tokens they accept. This system won’t replace cash or checks at the Market — it’s just another way to pay. Be gentle on Market staff if you try it out — it’s the first week with the machine and there will surely be kinks to work out. But yay for more convenience for shoppers, yay for access to the Market for LINK users, and yay for supporting the local economy by putting more money in growers’ pockets. Also, multiple payment options are cool.