Why We Need A Farmers Market
In a study funded by LaSalle Bank, entitled "The Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago," Mari Galligher, the study's author, identified the Woodlawn neighborhood as one of Chicago's "food deserts." Of course, we who live and work here did not need a study to know that Woodlawn suffers from a dearth of available fresh and wholesome foods. We are reminded of the lack of food resources every time we need a gallon of milk or hanker for a piece of fruit. According to Galligher, the consequence for Woodlawners is an egregiously high rate of diabetes and other food-related health problems.
A 50-year history of economic divestment in Woodlawn has until now made it impossible to attract supermarket chains or other retailers, which are loathe to be the first to invest in the neighborhood. Moreover, a lack of sound urban planning and poor political leadership has resulted in the eradication of the once-existing commercial district that, in the past, thrived with small businesses and that, until this last decade, continued to hold out the possibility of a commercial renaissance.
That the economically disadvantaged are given access only to food that we call 'junk' is a political issue. That the economically disadvantaged lack access to nutrition education is a political issue. That the economically disadvantaged are deprived of a healthy and positive relationship to food—one of our most fundamental cultural expressions—is a political issue. These are political issues because all of these conditions can be changed.
How the Market Started
With the assistance of an active group of volunteers, the Experimental Station launched the 61st Street Farmers Market in May 2008 with the following goals in mind:
- To create an oasis in the local 'food desert' by providing residents throughout the Woodlawn neighborhood and the surrounding areas with the opportunity to buy fresh, regionally grown farm products that are nutritious and affordable, and that specifically cater to the culinary needs of Southside Chicago's diverse population;
- To provide a direct marketing opportunity for producers of Midwestern, regionally grown agricultural and other farm-related products;
- To reflect the diverse demographic composition of the local community by seeking to recruit regional agricultural producers and vendors of African-American descent;
- To create a place to educate consumers about health and nutrition, including how food is grown, produced, or prepared;
- To provide a community activity that celebrates the vitality and diversity of Chicago's south side;
- To make fresh, affordable produce available to seniors and to people using LINK and the Farmers Market Senior Nutrition program.
How We Are Meeting Our Goals
Since founding the Market in 2008, Experimental Station has worked to increase access to and affordability of fresh and healthy food for all residents in Chicago's Woodlawn, Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods. All our farmers and food artisans are local (Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan) and grow, raise and produce their food following sustainable practices, with many being certified organic. Now, with almost 30 farmers and vendors, the 61st Street Farmers Market offers our community fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, poultry, eggs, cheeses, breads and baked goods, mushrooms, preserves, salsas, prepared food items, flowers and plants, and many specialty items.
To ensure all our neighbors have access to the broad selection of high-quality Market products, the 61st Street Farmers Market accepts LINK (or 'SNAP,' formerly known as 'food stamps') and has become the leader in Illinois in the acceptance and promotion of LINK at farmers markets. With the implementation of the state’s first Double Value Coupon Program, first undertaken in partnership with Wholesome Wave in 2009, our Market has seen LINK sales grow from $1,000 in 2008 to over $21,000 2016. Through our Double Value Coupon Program, we match LINK purchases up to $25 per market day, per cardholder.
We also realize that creating a rich food culture is about more than just providing access to food. Since the inception of the Market, Experimental Station has launched a variety of educational programs to share our passion for local seasonal food products, sustainability and the joy of cooking with friends and family. Every Saturday at the 61st Street Farmers Market, you can attend a chef demonstration and stop by the Market School tent to learn about responsible agriculture, health and nutrition, environmental preservation, gardening and much more. Through our garden to table food education curriculum, developed in partnership with Andrew Carnegie Elementary School and with funding from the Illinois Department of Agriculture, each year we teach approximately 180 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade students how to eat more healthfully, how to grow their own food, and how to prepare and enjoy the foods they grow.