Smile Politely

The perfect hump-day boost

On Wednesday I went to the Farmers Market. That’s right, on Wednesday. You see, there is a little-known and little-advertised market on Wednesdays on Mattis Avenue in Champaign, in the parking lot just north of Taffies. It’s open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine.

Last Wednesday it was raining and mildly miserable outside. As got out of my car, I didn’t see much; there was one very short row of vendors. There were a handful of people shopping, and in the time I was there, more arrived. I’m guessing that most of the people there were retirees, or people on summer vacation – teachers, maybe. I was quite surprised that so many people came out in such uninviting weather. Then again, when you consider the lovely and delicious product available, I’d go out of my way to pick up some middle-of-the-week stuff, too. The three vendors there were Kleiss Produce Farm, Meyer Produce, and Pekara Bakery

The selection of produce was similar to that of Urbana’s Market at the Square; all three vendors also participate there as well. Even though there weren’t the same size crowds as the Saturday market, the produce was not lacking. There were tomatoes, sweet corn, bell peppers, broccoli, green onions, peaches, plums, apples, zucchini, and green beans available. Pekara had a variety of bread loaves, including freshly made focaccia and baguettes, as well as soft pretzels, bagels, and regular and stuffed croissants. I recommend the chocolate stuffed croissant, but the ham and cheese one I sampled was delicious, too.

The Wednesday market is organized by Bob Kleiss of Kleiss Produce Farm. I spoke to him very briefly, and he indicated that he’s been doing this particular Wednesday market for over twenty years. That’s no small potatoes. He’s the one who organizes things, and Meyer Farm is just a few miles form Kleiss farm, so it’s not too much of a hassle for the famers to head to Champaign on Wednesdays. Kleiss indicated that the getting other farmers to commit to a Wednesday market is difficult, as it’s not nearly as lucrative as the Saturday market, and Champaign may be a bit of a drive. He’s also pretty sure that the Wednesday market is the only Champaign market to have vendors who sell explicitly homegrown produce and homemade items. I haven’t attended every market in Champaign, so I can neither confirm nor deny his claim.

Surely there are fewer people who are able to attend a Wednesday morning market than a Saturday morning market, but unless you’re working to get a handful of kids out of the house, it seems like the Wednesday market might be perfect. I don’t know about you, but even with my best intentions and planning, I don’t always manage to commit to the meals I’ve planned during the week. Sometimes life gets in the way, plans are shifted, or the produce I bought on Saturday is prematurely eaten, or improperly stored, and thus goes to waste. The Wednesday market is the perfect hump-day boost: I’m reminded that I need to eat more vegetables and avoid a mid-week fried food gorge-fest.

Here is my suggestion: The market opens at 7 a.m., most people probably go into work for 8 or 9 a.m., which means that there’s at least 30 to 40 minutes in which one can swing by the market to pick up some fresh produce (assuming that work is in C-U). The produce for purchase is not refrigerated, so it would be all right to bring in a bag of produce and leave it under a desk or in an office for the day. Or, perhaps one could head to the market on her or his lunch break, grab a loaf, roll, or stuffed croissant from Pekara, some grape tomatoes, and a piece of fruit and make a lunch of it? OK, so maybe you can pack a protein on Wednesdays to balance out the meal. Either way, there are opportunities to pick up some fresh produce in the middle ofthe week, which is awesome, really. However, I realize this suggestion is a bit idealistic. It assumes a particular amount and type of privilege. It requires time, transportation, cash, and flexibility in your job. Not all of us have those things, so I’m grateful that I can indeed squeeze in a quick market shopping on a Wednesday morning.

The Wednesday market and the Saturday Market at the Square seem to complement each other quite well. They’re both off of Springfield Avenue, close to the outermost borders of their respective towns. They both have ample parking. The vendors are the same. Seasonal produce is the same. So why not drive a few minutes on a Wednesday to re-up on your produce? The crowds are much more manageable on Wednesday than Saturday.

As I was perusing the produce, I noticed that several patrons were catching up with the vendors, indicating that there was some sort of established relationship. It was pretty cool to observe; I imagine that these folks have been coming to the markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays for so long that they are now on a small talk basis with the farmers. I have no idea if that is actually the case; maybe they just went high school together. Either way, I really like the small town nostalgia I invent when I see these things transpiring. For some reason (moving around a lot as an adult, perhaps), I can’t really imagine myself in those scenarios, so I not-so-subconsciously yearn for a place where everyone knows my name. (Well, sort of. I don’t really want everyone to know my name. Maybe Ted Danson.) Checking out the Wednesday and Saturday markets and saying hello to the vendors is one way of making that happen.

I appreciate the difficulties farmers and vendors face in participating in these markets, but I would love to see some local meat available on Wednesday. With that addition, I think the Champaign market would be really well rounded. Crafts and jams and honeys are good and fun and all, but really, I don’t need to browse or purchase those items on the regular. As far as I’m concerned, Urbana’s Market at the Square is the perfect venue for those items because the vendors are getting the most for their time, money, and energy. The Saturday crowds are much larger.

I can’t help but think that this could easily turn into an Urbana vs. Champaign argument: which market is better? My answer is that neither is better or worse, just a little different.  Perhaps it’s more helpful to recognize the incredible resources that we have available in this community and take advantage of them.

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