The arrival of ramps, soon to be followed by asparagus and strawberries, signals the arrival of prime season for Chicago’s farmers’ markets. We’re in the easiest time of year to shop markets, buy local and sustainable stuff, and come away with produce that tastes only a million bazillion times better than the same species flown in from South America or New Zealand. I visit a fair number of them on the north side myself, but when I was asked to do a list of the top ones alongside the Summer Guide issue, I went straight to the source: Rob Gardner, editor of the Local Beet. He runs regular pieces on things to do with local and sustainable produce, and has useful features like his guide to effective farmers market shopping and Jeannie Boutelle’s Local Calendar. So I quizzed him to help put together this guide to what to find at some of the best farmers markets in the Chicago area.
When you see a lot of the same vendors, it can be easy to think farmers’ markets are interchangeable, but Gardner says there are some key differences. “The ones that are run by the city kind of take anybody, which is fine, but the independent ones—Logan Square, Andersonville, Pilsen—actively try to have an eye for talent and find interesting vendors who are new and more artisanal,” he says. He also says there’s a temptation to want the biggest array of vendors to shop, “but when things are in season, you don’t need fifty tents, you just want three places with strawberries. So don’t overlook the little ones—for example, Loyola has a small market that’s the only Monday market on the north side, and that’s fine.”
Not that sticking to your neighborhood should be the only choice, either—some of the more distant markets toward the countryside are already in full swing, maybe because they’re drawing from farther south, while the city markets are just now getting going. And he likes the idea of going to a market in a small town like Woodstock—”It’s like going out to the country, it has that cute town square, and lots of farmers who really are local, just outside of town. Frankfort doesn’t have the cute town square, but it’s like that too in the south suburbs,” he says.
Here’s our guide to the best ones in Rob’s and my collective view; the city has a more complete list here. No promise that anything we describe as having been there in the past will be there this year, of course.
Small but well-curated assortment of farmers, bakers, and vendors of premade foods, including Asian pear lady Orianna Kruszewski and artisan tofu business Phoenix Bean Tofu.
5/20-9/2: Wed 3-8 PM, 9/9-10/14: Wed 3-7 PM, Berwyn between Clark and Ashland.
Strong downtown market (except that it lacks meat vendors—it’s so hard to fit a side of beef into the office fridge). But first-rate fruit and vegetable vendors like Nichols, Seedling, River Valley Ranch, Labriola bread.
5/14-10/29: Thu 7 AM-3 PM, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington, 312-346-3278, thedaleycenter.com.
A rare Sunday market which Gardner says also does a lot of activities like trips to visit farmers.
6/7-10/25: Sun 9 AM-2 PM, Glenwood between Morse and Lunt.
The big kahuna of farmer’s markets draws dozens of vendors, celebrity chefs, massive crowds (and their dogs) and a parking nightmare on Saturdays in Lincoln Park (the Wednesday version is more chill). All worth it for the top quality produce and food vendors, all carefully chosen as rigorously local (not so much as a chocolate chip in a scone can come from outside the area) and certified organic.
Through 10/31: Wed and Sat 7 AM-1 PM, 1750 N. Clark, 773-880-1266.
A smaller, much less busy market near Green City (but without its strict insistence on organic certification), with good Michigan fruit vendors and some interesting food vendors like Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods grilling bangers for lunch.
6/6-10/31: Sat 7 AM-1 PM, Lincoln Park High School, 2001 N. Orchard, 773-534-8130, lincolnparkhs.org.
There are actually two different farmers markets in the parking lot of the Western Brown Line station, one run by the city on Tuesdays, one by the community on Thursdays, both with a nice assortment of farm-fresh foods and other goods.
6/3-10/30: Tue 7 AM-1 PM; 6/4-10/29: Thu 4-8 PM, N. Lincoln and W. Leland.
The slacker hours don’t seem very farmer friendly, but besides good fruit and vegetable vendors, this fast-growing market has some of the most interesting food vendors of any in town, from vegetarian tacos to Publican Quality Meats; they do a good job of seeking out new talent and showcasing up-and-coming food concepts.
5/17-10/25: Sun 10 AM-3 PM, Logan and Milwaukee.
Market servicing Hyde Park and with a lot of outreach to underserved communities nearby; lots of top vendors including produce from Ellis Family Farms and Growing Power, meat from Faith’s Farm and Mint Creek farm, Stamper cheese, and more.
5/16-12/19: Sat 9 AM-2 PM, 61st and Dorchester, experimentalstation.org.
Large south-side market with lots of produce vendors.
Through 10/25: Sun 7 AM-1 PM, 95th and Longwood.
Gardner says the market attached to one of Growing Power’s urban farms is good to shop now, because their hoop houses produce things you won’t see in other markets for a few more weeks.
Sat 9 AM-3 PM, 3333 S. Iron Street, growingpower.org.
Located “toward the arty east end, not the carnitas end” of Pilsen, in Gardner’s words; he praises them for being focused on encouraging start-up businesses to test out their wares before finding storefronts, which several (such as Beurrage bakery and Dia de los Tamales) have.
Begins 5/31: Sun 9 AM-2 PM, 18th and Halsted.
The market of urban organic farm Growing Home, which will likely have hoop house produce ahead of others’ schedules.
Wed 11 AM-3 PM, 5814 S. Wood Street, growinghomeinc.org
Large market with many farmers, including the only market appearance of Henry’s Farm, which grows a huge variety of unusual heirloom and Asian plants, and the Great American Cheese Collection.
Through 11/7: Sat 7:30 AM-1 PM, University and Oak.
Sprawling market with many farm vendors such as Hazzard Free Farm, which offers a wide range of local grains, lots of musical performers and—you never would have guessed this in Oak Park—an easygoing post-hippie vibe. The lines for apple cider doughnuts run long all day long.
5/23-10/31: Sat 7 AM-1 PM, 460 Lake St., Oak Park.
Lots of farmer and producer vendors including meats from Faith’s Farm.
Through 10/18: First and third Sunday of the month, 9 AM-3 PM, Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, 847-835-5440, chicago-botanic.org