If you hadn’t been reading Smile Politely prior to this week, or listening to our SPodcast, you may have been unaware that the C-U has, in addition to Urbana’s Market at the Square, a sister market in Champaign. The Historic North First Street Farmer’s Market is located behind the Police Department, and is open Thursday afternoon from three to seven. It is the small but growing cousin of the Saturday Market I frequent. Because it is across town and on Thursdays, I usually forget about it. Luckily, this weekend I heard a radio advertisement for the Champaign Market, and made a mental note (which I remembered!) to make the trek across town later in the week.
As expected, the First Street Market is considerably smaller with only a handful of vendors, a majority of which are carry-overs from Urbana’s Market. On my initial trip around the parking lot in which it is located, I spotted two arts vendors, three produce vendors, a baker, and a couple of flower vendors. The immediate stand-outs for me were the Illinois Water misting station, the barbecue stand, and a community garden to the north of the lot. Admittedly, I was taken aback at the paucity of sellers in comparison to Urbana’s market. However, the First Street Market has a particular charm and personality all its own.
The most striking difference is the overall pace of the First Street Market. While Urbana hosts a busy, bustling bazaar, Champaign’s market is a comfortable, convivial community space. This is due in part to the economic and civic requirements which it was designed to address. From its inception, area business leaders wanted to both attract consumers to their downtown storefronts as well as engage the local residents with healthy activities. While in its second year of operation in 2010, the First Street Market developed programs to address these needs, in such disparate approaches as cooking demonstrations, canning seminars, and fencing lessons. To further this involvement, the Boys and Girls Club farms the nearby Prosperity Garden (what I spied to the north of vendor space), which easily boasts the shortest travel distance from farm to table in any marketplace–literally across the parking lot. At this Market, there is a real impetus for not just local collaboration, but for neighborhood betterment.
To get a vendor’s viewpoint, I spoke with Cyndy Lammert from Brackett Farms. Since her farm sells goods at both markets, I wanted to ask about her experiences. The two markets are very different from her perspective, as well. While it is in its beginning stages, she sees definite opportunity for the young venture, and is optimistic about its prospect for growth. She mentioned that the Champaign market, because of its small size, works to attract vendors who complement one another, rather than those whose products might compete. Because it takes place in the middle of the day and in the middle of the week, she was the only representative present, while her husband and other hands were busy at the farm. Being able to reach prospective market shoppers as they leave work is a benefit: there are those who need a mid-week stock up in fresh produce, and those whose curiosity is piqued by the caravan-like tents in the otherwise vacant parking lot. I was eager for the chance to talk to Cyndy, not just about her impressions of the two markets, but of her farm in general. Often it seems the Saturday morning market in Urbana is bursting with energy and excitement, and it’s not often the occasion arises to have the relaxed conversation which we were able to have. That fact alone demonstrated to me the difference between the markets’ moods.
I have to admit, I was at first a little underwhelmed by the First Street Market. However, as I spent time talking to and watching people, not to mention learning more about its history and philosophy, it’s clear that this Market is attempting to do something of real importance for the citizenry. It is a cooperative movement to engage and educate the people in that area, and creates mutual benefits for those who shop there, those who sell there, and those whose businesses happen to be there. It surpassed what I thought of as a farmers’ market, and made me realize what a community can create together. I look forward to keeping an eye on both markets to see what they have to offer our twin towns.