Smile Politely

Market Watch: Season Opening, May 2022

Outdoor farmers’ markets return to Champaign-Urbana this month, and I am so excited for this year’s markets. This is my third year covering the Champaign-Urbana outdoor farmers’ markets. The 2020 market season was at the height of the pandemic: masking was required, no eating allowed, and the markets were one way only. Last year, the markets relaxed requirements, so shoppers could wander up and down the market unmasked.

This year’s farmers’ market season begins tomorrow, Saturday, May 7th. The Urbana Market at the Square will have many returning market favorites like Sola GratiaStango Cuisine, and more. The Champaign Farmers’ Market hosted by The Land Connection will open in two weeks on May 17th — and will have a Mutt of the Week award with a prize of doggie treats. If you’re new to Smile Politely, this Market Watch column will run monthly and highlight foods and vendors you can find at both markets.

So what can C-U look forward to this year at the outdoor markets? Lots of fresh produce, street food, new vendors, food trucks, and more. 

In the parking lot at the Lincoln Square Mall, the Urbana Market at the Square is open for outdoor shopping. A blue tent selling baked goods has a line of masked white shoppers in front of a blue and white checkered tableclothed table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Urbana Market at the Square opens every Saturday morning, rain or shine, from 7 a.m. until noon. Parking is plentiful, and there are more than 50 vendors at this market. Farmers, bakers, and more fill the parking lot with produce and great food to buy. It really is a fun way to spend a Saturday morning: wandering up and down the market browsing all the options. If I ever have out of town visitors, this is a must do to get out of the house — and score a yummy breakfast.

On a folding table, there are plantable herbs in small black containers arranged inside a large gray tray. The sign says the herbs are all $3 unless lavendar, rosemary, or fresh tarragon.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Many of the vendors sell herbs ready to be planted in your garden. Consider trying a new-to-you spice like chocolate mint or a favorite like basil. This is my absolute favorite thing to buy when the markets open. I love the selection and friendly farmers at Meyer Produce (have you seen their Instagram?), and they sell plants in small enough sizes for my garden pot. I usually buy basil, rosemary, and whatever else sounds delicious. The chives I planted last year are still going strong, so I won’t need chives, but I will need some more herbs to plant for my garden. If you don’t have a garden, these plantable herbs are a great way to start one.

On a table with a light blue tablecloth, there are fresh veggies for sale in plastic square containers. Most of the veggies in the photo are okra.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Starting May 17th, the Champaign Market opens every Tuesday afternoon from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Downtown Champaign in parking lot M. It’s smaller than the Urbana market, but you can shop for locally grown food, flowers, bread, pastries, honey and more. This season, find Cloud Mountain Kombucha, Urbana’s award-winning kombucha brewing business, at the Tuesday market. If you haven’t tried any ‘buch from Cloud Mountain, you are missing out. The non-alcoholic fermented tea comes in a variety of flavors, and I have liked every flavor I tried.

The Champaign Farmers’ Market allows leashed dogs and will be choosing a Market Mutt of the Week each Tuesday. The chosen mutt will win dog treats from Pura Vida Pets, and the mutt’s mug will be posted on The Land Connection’s socials.

At the Urbana Market in the Square, a farmer stands with arms crossed behind tables of produce for sale.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Vendors accept cash, card, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). If you are using a LINK card, stop by the information booth to learn about using LINK benefits at the Market. You can also check out Tias’ helpful step-by-step guide for using your p-ebt card at C-U’s farmers’ markets

In a plastic yellow bin, there are Illinois-grown cucumbers for sale.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Bring your reusable bag and buy some Illinois-grown veggies. As the market season continues, more produce and more variety will be available. This month, look for vegetables like leafy greens, herbs, cucumbers, rhubarb, asparagus, and hydroponic tomatoes. 

An overhead photo shows giant buckets of Illinois-grown strawberries beside a few small blue square containers of strawberries for sale.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

And fruit! I love seeing strawberries at the markets because my kids love fruit. The locally grown berries are smaller than the grocery store ones, but they are so tasty.

In the Lincoln Square parking lot at the Urbana Market at the Square, there is a Burrito King food truck with no line.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

There are food trucks at the Urbana Market at the Square, too. This month, find Burrito King, Piato To Go, and La Paloma. All are fantastic options for hot food. The trucks have both breakfast and lunch options on the menu. Sometimes I am not into the mood for eggs, and the nice burrito makers of Burrito King will roll a lunch burrito (sans scrambled eggs) even at 7:30 in the morning. Just ask nicely!

In the M parking lot of Downtown Champaign, the farmers' market is busy with shoppers. There is a blue tent with a sign reading

At the Urbana Market at the Square, there is a coffeeshop on wheels and two white men working under a blue tent. One is pouring cold brew into a plastic cup.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The first thing I like to do on a Saturday morning at the market is visit Nitro Cup. This C-U coffeeshop on wheels sells some amazing cold brew coffee. Walking around the market with a cold brew in hand is such a lovely summer vibe. Try just a single cup or stock up for the week with a large glass jar of Nitro Cup’s cold brew.

There is a white Prairie Fruits Farm tent at Urbana Market at the Square with a giant poster of a goat.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

A popular vendor to check out is Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. They make some damn good cheese. The Fleur de la Prairie and Pelota Roja both won a Good Food Award. The award-winning cheese company sells these special cheeses and more. The chevre is fantastic and so is the gelato. 

In the parking lot at the Urbana Market at the Square, there is a chalkboard sign with the names of baked goods and prices written neatly with white chalk.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

One of my new favorite market vendors is Six Red Chairs Bakery. The prices are great, and the baked goods taste even better. Try the kouign amann which is like a croissant but with sugar. I wrote more about Six Red Chairs’ kouign amann in last year’s July Market Watch, and I’ve been waiting all year to get one again.

In the parking lot of the Lincoln Square Mall, there are shoppers walking away from the camera down the aisles of the Urbana market.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Urbana’s Market at the Square Info

The Urbana Market has been in continuous operation since 1979. The market runs from May 7th to October 29th, 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 Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sign up for weekly Market emails here.

With a blue sky above, there is the Champaign farmers' market with tents set up with vendors.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Land Connection Champaign Farmers’ Market

The Land Connection’s Champaign Farmers’ Market is on their seventh year. The Champaign Market is open on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. starting on May 17th. 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 dogs are welcome.

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

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

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