Credit: Rachel Fernandez

Throughout the summer of 2020, every cancelled street fest felt like a fresh punch in the gut. No more day drinking at Hot Dog Fest while dancing to Boy Band Review perform “Summer Girls” by LFO, an especially devastating blow. There was, however, a shining beacon of hope: farmers’ markets.

Chicago deemed the outdoor collection of vendors as essential businesses, allowing them “to open across the city to increase neighborhood access to fresh and healthy food” as long as they followed certain safety protocols—given the circumstances, the 61st Street and the Oak Park farmers’ markets had successful seasons, and a bunch of markets around the city and state accepted Link payments, making them even more accessible. The Lincoln Park farmers’ market that I’ve frequented for the past five years looked very different in 2020 with limited capacity, hand sanitizer stations, mask requirements, and only one flow for foot traffic. These changes were enforced by a team of energetic volunteers, and after months of sulking and doomscrolling, I started helping out too.

I formed relationships with regular shoppers, volunteers, and vendors who’d sometimes give me free vegetables or doughnuts or a discount on cheese. When they needed some guerilla marketing around the neighborhood, I’d hop on my blue ’76 Schwinn and ride around with a fanny pack of colored chalk and a portable speaker blasting Talking Heads and third-wave ska. It felt like the Chicago summers I love so dearly. The markets connected me with my community and provided safe and manageable human interaction that many of us lacked for months, not to mention so many vegetables. Farmers’ markets thrive on community support, so check to see if there’s a market in your neighborhood next time you need some produce!