I'm interested in trying it small scale this year to see how it goes. I was just wondering what sells in this area, and what flops. Also, does anyone here lease the land for market gardening? Thanks.
Chicago is the BIG guys playground.
That is the word on the street around here.
The markets are also hard to get into.
I have also heard large farmers in the southern states
bring their produce up to the Chicago market.
Or, were you talking about smaller markets in
suburban areas around Chicago?
Hi flower. I was really asking about all of them. But mostly the smaller suburban markets. It seems that the markets nearer Chicago are all run by the same person (or organization). Also, quite a few of the suburban markets all have the same contact person as well. I guess if southern growers bring their produce up here, than that defeats the purpose of "locally grown", I would think.
Unfortunately, resellers assume "locally grown" means grown anywhere here in the states.
That is why many of us growers prefer the grower's only markets.
I don't know anything about the smaller suburban markets other than I have a sister living in a northwest suburb. And, she would love a good farmers market. It seems that would be a good opportunity for someone who seems to be as motivated as you appear.
Your other question was about leasing land. We grow flowers for market on seven acres; and, lease three additional acres from our neighbor, who is a retired dairy farmer.
Thanks, ff, for the replies. We only have our little 3/4 acre lot. The problem is the shade. The people that owned the property before us were silver maple happy. I do have an unheated greenhouse where I can start more than we have room to grow. We can grow small scale, and rent garden plots where my husband works for additional space (in full sun). But, I have been eye-balling my neighbors property with envy. They just bought it, and have no use for the land other than a dirt-bike track for his friends and his son. How hard would it be to prepare the 5 acres he isn't using into usable garden beds? This section of his property directly behind us isn't buildable (land is somewhat low with a drainage ditch running throught it). It was used previously for hay and our new neighbors have absolutely no use for it. They just let all of the weeds grow up and run to seed. Seems like such a waste. With all of this cold, cloudy weather, I look out my window at that old pasture and dream of filling it with beds full of flowers, berries and vegetables. I think about the only sizable crop we could get from our property would be mushrooms, lol. In fact, last year it looked as if we were going to be taken over by toadstools. :-P
Have you tried or heard of the Green City Market. It's only a few years old I think and is growing every year. I'd have to find the contact info for you but it's near the lake in the park and does very very well. I think it's mostly organic if not completely. I'm also part of a tiny market in Humboldt Park and I would not suggest anyone drive in just for that. It's a good market though for anyone just starting out and wanting to give it a try. It's on Saturdays. I believe Green city market is on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
I found their website.
Here is a link that might be useful: Green City Market
I never sold there, but I used to shop at the Park Forest Farmer's Market. It's not a large market -- I think maybe 10-15 vendors. There are one or two that certainly brought their goods in from far away, but the rest all seemed to be locally growing. There was always an organic vendor or two, some others who specialized in heirloom tomatoes.
I think that the village was good about programming community groups to have activities during the market to help bring in more traffic (as a member of the community, I always enjoyed seeing what was going on!). A friend of mine was a member of the quilting guild and they'd have a couple of Saturdays with demonstrations and a raffle, various kids' groups held bake sales, etc.
The community is pretty supportive of this market. Again, it's not real big, but if you're looking for a place to get your feet wet it might be a place to try.
(Oh, Park Forest is about 35 miles due south of Chicago, in case you're not familiar with the area.)
My wife and I have sold dried flowers and lavender at the City of Chicago farmer's markets for the last four years.
If you want to start small, think about their monthly markets. It's easy to get into them, but precisely because they don't take place week after week, they have difficulty building up a clientele. They're really dependent on a local community organization or cultural institution beating the drum for them, and I know from experience that they can be a real drag if community support isn't there. On the other hand, this is a way of getting your feet wet, and at least through last year there was a rule that participants in the big downtown markets also had to do at least some of the monthlies, so you get to meet people with a lot of experience and see how your stuff stacks up. There are also special pre-season and post-season markets that are fairly easy to get into -- if you've got something to sell.
The other vendors that I know best are genuine growers/producers. There are some I've seen that may stretch that concept, but most are for real, and they're usually very friendly.
I can't say what will do best -- that seems to vary from one market to the next. At some, people are looking for "mainstream" produce, like from a supermarket. At others, you may have chefs looking for unusual vegetables or people looking for ethnic specialties. You might do well semi-specializing -- offering a lot of starts of heirloom tomatoes/a wide variety of exotic peppers/Indian corn according to the season.
A big problem is that the program is now under the wing of the Mayor's Office of Special Events. It's not that they're bad folks or anything -- quite the opposite -- but they've usually got bigger fish to fry, like Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest or the opening of Millenium Park. Right now, their web site has no information about the 2005 season, and I'm not counting on even getting an application until a week before the earliest pre-season market (around Mother's Day).
The name of the guy in charge is Ron Salazar.