By Megan Escutia
There’s not much to look forward to on Monday morning…except the afternoon farmers market at Loyola University Chicago.
Loyola is committed to sustainability and a healthy lifestyle. The Wellness Program allowed Loyolan’s to achieve a healthier self through walk/runs, the Biodiesel Program allowed students to produce environmentally friendly products from vegetable waste, and Loyola’s Solutions to Environmental Programs (STEP) course allowed students to plan a community market.
“Students were looking at the industrial act agricultural system and its impact on the environment, people, and the economy, things like global as well as local, and what came out of it was an urban act demonstration project on campus, which is currently ongoing and located down the street from campus, ” said Farmers Market Sustainability Specialist, Gina Lettiere. “Then, another student group said we should do a farmers market.”
The farmers market, located in Chicago’s Rogers Park, on the southwest corner of Albion Street and Sheridan Road, has increased the community’s access to healthy and sustainably grown produce from various Midwest vendors.
“I was a mentor of the project. It took about two years. First semester we started to plan and second semester students were updated on site location, finding vendors, and ways to market the farmers market,” Lettiere said. “It’s supporting all that are growing food within Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan, because the money goes directly to them and people get access to local grown foods.
“Vendors that have been farming for many years have the system down, but we have a lot of newer folks that may have 40 acres or even 20 acres of production and have been doing this for obviously less than 80 years,” Lettiere said.
Tomato Mountain Farm, an organic farm that produces homemade salsas, preserves, and other sauce-like products, has been farming since 1999.
“We jar everything on the farm. We grow all of our ingredients, other than sugar and salt, and we bottle it in our kitchen located right on the farm so it’s really fresh tasting and it’s at its peak of ripeness,” explained Tomato Mountain Farm vendor, Cara Donley. “We don’t have to add a lot of extra stuff, we don’t put vinegar in any of our salsa’s, which is unusual, but it has so much flavor that the veggies can really stand on their own.”
The farms vegetable and fruit ingredients are certified organic and grown on the 12-acre farm located in Brooklyn, Wisc. The distance doesn’t prevent the vendors from commuting to Loyola’s Farmers Market each week.
“It’s about two and a half hours from Chicago but we are used to it because we do most of our business in Chicago selling at markets,” said Donley. “We also have our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), so we do home delivery of whatever is in season and that is where most of our business comes from; the CSA and the jarred products.”
Community Supported Agriculture is a weekly home delivery of a box of certified organic produce picked at a farm.
“I bought Sungold Preserves from Tomato Mountain Farm. I like it because it’s sweet, which I didn’t expect from a tomato sauce,” said Loyola alumnae, Lauren Mueller. “I also bought a lot of vegetables and bread from the Loyola Student Farm. It was all fresh and looked good…and I needed groceries. Oh, and I bought a cookie from Bot Bakery.”
Bot Bakery, an organic, vegan, and gluten-free bakery whose goods can be found locally, is one of the newer additions to Loyola’s farmers market.
“We like to make baked goods that don’t have casein, gluten, or other allergens but still taste delicious,” said Bot’s Bakery vendor, Betty Alper. “We have a variety of goods that I bring to the market. It depends on whatever seasonal produce is available. Today I partnered with Mick Klug Fruit Farm and used their peaches in our peach pies.”
Mick Klug Fruit Farm, which specializes in a variety of fruits, has existed for over 80 years. The fruits and vegetables are grown on a 120-acre farm located in southern Michigan.
“The peaches from Mick Klug are delicious. I buy a couple of them every week,” said Loyola Senior, Sophie Youakim. “It was smart of Loyola to start a farmers market, especially since it’s so close to campus.”
The market takes place every Monday and lasts from June 11 to October 15. During the summer (June 11 – September 24), the market is open between 3 and 7 p.m. During the fall (October 1-15), the market is open between 2:30 and 6:30 p.m.
“Behind the scenes there is a lot of work that goes into planning and managing the market. We are wrapping up soon and will have a couple of months to assess and by December we have to automatically contact vendors again,” said Lettiere. “Student involvement is key.”
For all vendors interested in being a part of the market, and students interested in getting involved with the market for next season, feel free to visit the market’s website, as well as contacting Gina Lettiere at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773.508.8255.