Smile Politely

Making the Market happen: A profile of Natalie Kenny Marquez

Sporting a pretty sweater with a bird on the front (a cardinal, not a chicken), Natalie Kenny Marquez jokes that she is quickly becoming “the bird lady,” a reference to the very recognizable chicken mascot of the Urbana’s Market at the Square. Kenny Marquez is a seventh-generation Champaign County resident and a graduate of Garden Hills, Edison Middle School, and Central High School. Following graduate school at Southern Illinois University and a career in public service as a Public Information Officer in Skokie, Illinois, she moved back to town and took over the post of Market Director and Coordinator. Kenny Marquez lives right down the street from her parents and is unabashed about her hometown pride. And she is clearly invested in, and enthusiastic about, the growing market culture in Urbana.

I met with Kenny Marquez to interview her at the Urbana City Building. She originally began her tenure at the Market when she was serving as a marketing coordinator for the city and was asked to step in for the Market coordinator. Kenny Marquez had to quickly learn the ropes, as it was peak Market season and everything was already in full swing. It must have gone well, as she now serves as both the Market Director and Coordinator, which keeps her busy with Market business year-round. She commented that she spends a large part of the off-season meeting with farmers who wish to become vendors. The Market doesn’t allow resale or wholesale, so investigation of producer sites is a big part of the job. Additionally, planning all the fun events of the Market, working on the budget, preparing the annual report, and helping people to apply to be vendors is a big part of the job. When the Market is in season, the crew arrives around 5 a.m. to transform the Lincoln Square Mall parking lot into one of the biggest farmers’ markets around.

Kenny Marquez said that the Market has big plans for this coming season. First, the city has purchased seating and bike racks for a new area on the northeast corner of Vine Street. The addition of this area will triple the current seating capacity and provide new areas for the Market to expand into. The Market staff is also working with the public health office to allow patrons to sample more items. Kenny Marquez hopes that an increase in patrons’ ability to sample foods at the Market will tempt them to try new things. Finally, due to an agreement with the local liquor board, the Market started offering wine last December, and the temporary liquor license will allow them to continue carrying local beer, wine, and maybe even whiskey this summer. Kenny Marquez has high hopes for Urbana’s Market at the Square’s future, and the changes implemented in May are just a preview of future success.

The Market runs from 7 a.m. to noon every Saturday through November 1st. All events are scheduled rain or shine. 

Portrait photo courtsey of Sam Logan. Article photos courtsey of Jessica Hammie. 

Related Articles