School’s back in session, the temperatures are slowly started to dip, and people will not shut up about pumpkin spice everything. Fall is tiptoeing into our lives, and I for one am very excited. Fall has always been my favorite season–I love the crisp air, the leaves changing and falling, and the smell of wood smoke around as people start using their fireplaces again.
For many of us in the farmers’ market world, it also signals a big challenge, and a frustrating time of year. Fall is actually a great time at the market. We’ve still got tomatoes and peppers and eggplants and even a few peaches winding down. And we start to see squashes of all shapes, colors, and textures, as well as more and more onions and sweet potatoes and apples and cauliflower and all kinds of great food. Trouble is, most people associate the farmers’ market with summer, and we’re finding this doubly true with a mid-week market. Once summer is done and the school year routines kick in, the farmers’ market falls out of shoppers’ weekly routine. This dropoff can lead to a pretty severe decline in sales, which in turn increases food waste and weakens the economic viability of small farms before they enter into the slow winter months.
People are often very surprised that our market runs through the end of October, surprised that there is anything left to sell, but I assure you there is plenty! So this year the Illinois Stewardship Alliance has led an effort bringing together market managers and other local food outlets from around the area to form the Central Illinois Eat Local Challenge. From the event’s press release:”In order to help Challenge participants meet their goal of spending $20 a week on locally grown food, participants will be automatically subscribed to a weekly e-newsletter featuring seasonal recipes, farmers market meal plans, storage and food preservation tips, and updates on local food events going on throughout the region. Participants can also find updates and inspiration on the Central Illinois Eat Local Challenge Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/centralillinoiseatlocalchallenge/).”
At the Champaign Farmers’ Market, we’re incorporating a series of chef demos led by our good friend and fabulous local food advocate, Chef Alisa DeMarco. Each week she’ll be working with a chef from a different Downtown Champaign restaurant to show the public two fabulous dishes that can be made from seasonal ingredients (and of course, there will be samples!)So this fall we ask you to give the farmers’ markets another look. The money you spend locally directly with your farmer benefits our local economy in so many ways, and helps your farmers end the season on a strong note. Your local farmers’ markets and local food advocates are working hard to make eating local less of a challenge, make sure you get a taste of what your farmers have to offer even when the summer starts to wane!