Smile Politely

Market Watch: May 1, 2010

Spring has most definitely sprung, and we’re not just talking about the lilacs and the leaves on the trees and that stuff. It’s time for Urbana’s Market at the Square — our area’s largest farmers market — to open up and start offering the community the best locally-grown produce, baked goods, prepared foods, art and crafts, performance, and some of the best people-watching in town.

The Market launches the 2010 season this Saturday, May 1, at the corner of Illinois and Vine Streets near downtown Urbana. It starts at 7 a.m. and runs until noon, rain or shine — or, in the case of this weekend, “Run or Shine”, as the Market’s opening coincides with the 2nd Annual Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. Don’t let the race deter you from coming to the Market; while there will be delays earlier in the morning getting to downtown Urbana, it’s estimated most of the race traffic should be out of downtown Urbana by 10 a.m. Traffic will always be pulsed across the race course when there’s a break in the action — you just won’t be able to get onto the race course itself. The Marathon’s website has pretty comprehensive information about traffic issues at the race — please click here for more info so you can plan your morning.

OK — on to the good stuff!

Just because there’s no sweet corn or peaches right now doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to eat — there’s plenty of fresh produce this early in the spring, and more of it this year thanks to plenty of warmth and fairly timely rains.

The grande dame of the short season produce in springtime is, unquestionably, asparagus, and if you love the stuff you won’t be disappointed. Locally-grown asparagus from the Market is far fresher than anything you’ll find elsewhere and the taste is otherworldly — in a good way! If you’re stumped for ways to eat asparagus other than however you’ve been preparing it, this website should help.

Don’t like asparagus? Pick up some salad mix, head lettuces, radishes, rainbow chard, green onions, spinach, or rapini — maybe even some rhubarb! Fresh cut herbs will also be available. For the omnivores, we hear Moore Family Farm will have plenty of farm-raised grassfed lamb and beef — steaks, even, and this is way early in the year for them to have that stuff. More meats are available from some of last year’s vendors and a couple new kids on the block. Fresh eggs? Got ’em. Goat cheeses? In the house. Baked goods from local bakers? Indeed. The Market’s got just about everything a person needs to Eat Here.

The Market, as always, has plenty of new arrivals. All are notable. Among them, for starters, is Veggie Trails. These purveyors of “vegetarian cowboy cuisine” will be at the Market nearly every Saturday during the season. Look for them in Row 5, in the southwest corner of the Market — and you can read more about them here. Another notable newb to the Market is Daniel Schreiber’s Flatlander Chocolate. How lucky are we, we ask you, to have a true bean-to bar chocolatier in our midst who’s selling at the farmers’ market? Very lucky indeed. He’ll be in Row 4. We’re lucky, also, to have a new gluten-free baker in town — The Baking Bakers will be located in Row 5 on the east side of the row, next to Tiny Greens. Look for the Baking Bakers on Facebook!

There are also many new artisans at the Market this year; look for more items that are “green” — recycled textiles, childrens’ wear — plus the usual fascinating array of glass jewelry, furniture, woodturning, batik, and much more. You absolutely must shop all five rows of the Market — there are gems everywhere — and as always, if you ever have questions about the vendors or the Market, come on over to the City tent in the northwest corner of the Market and ask. They like to help.

Much more news about the Market in the coming weeks as things gear up for what should be an excellent season. Look for more information about the Market’s nutrition and farm-linkage programming, Sprouts at the Market, coming soon; there’s a new information campaign called Eat Here coming your way starting May 15; and did someone say Recyclimpics? Next week, we’ll have an update on the Market’s new credit/debit and LINK machine — as of May 8, you’ll be able to use your plastic at the Market in addition to paying with cash or checks! Stay tuned.

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