61st Street Farmers Market welcomes Spring by moving outside for the 12th year

Customers stroll among the booths at the 61st Street Farmers’ Market during its first outdoor session of the season. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Although it was an unexpectedly cold and gloomy day, vendors were smiling brightly at potential customers as they fresh produce, desserts and warm food at 61st Street Farmers Market.

On May 11, the market opened for its 12th season outdoors. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., tents lined the sidewalk on 61st Street between Dorchester and Blackstone Avenues. The market had at least 30 vendors from throughout Chicagoland and other cities throughout the Midwest. Visitors were encouraged to participate in activities like yoga and a demonstration by Chef Gail Kerr. To be financially accessible to all attendees, the market accepted LINK and Senior Farmers Market Coupons.

While walking through the market, the feeling of community was obvious as new and old attendees greeted each other and stopped to have a conversation with vendors about everything from their products to personal gardening projects and their families.

“Take a look around and come up to any of these people. It’s not only the food that they are selling but there is love that brings everybody into one package,” said Karolina Hajdas of Tomato Mountain. “This is the place where you can come, talk to people and buy produce that is actually not only sold from people’s hardworking hands, but it is from their hearts. It’s just so beautiful.”

Hajdas has worked at the market for almost a year and really enjoys it. On Saturday, she was selling fresh spinach that was grown over the winter months and jars of organic-certified salsa.

Stephanie Dunn of Star Farm, an urban farm located in the Back of The Yards neighborhood, views the market as a way to get feedback from customers and connect members of the community to programming that the market has to offer.

“This is our second year at the market,” Dunn said. “It has been a great way to build a relationship with your customers. You get a lot of feedback on your produce, appreciation from clients and you get to know your community a little more. We are a nonprofit so we like to connect people to our services and the programs that we offer on the farm.”

During the market, Dunn offered customers a chance to buy spinach, arugula, green lettuce, green onions, and other fresh produce that was grown on the farm. Star Farm offers training programs for adults with physical and developmental disabilities, a children’s gardening program, farm parties, and host workshops. Dunn works with formerly incarcerated youth.

For other vendors at the market, it was a chance for them to work with local vendors to use locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.

“The market helps us because it gives us access to fresh, locally sourced items in different areas in the city. We do a lot of locally sourced ingredients. So, it is nice to be around the vendors that we use in our products. For example, when Ellis Farms have blueberries in season and we will use those blueberries to make blueberry lavender yogurt. So, seasonally, we will adjust our flavors according to what grows and what’s available,” said Kim Smith of Yoberri Gourmet, a frozen desserts shop located in Lincoln Park that sells ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbets.

Yoberri Gourmet has been open for almost 11 years and has been at the market for five years. Smith sold an array of flavors that included blueberry lavender yogurt, green tea chocolate chip yogurt and champagne peach sorbet.

The market will be outside every Saturday “rain or shine” between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on 61st Street between Dorchester and Blackstone Avenues until Oct. 27.