Implement community farmers markets into your grocery routine


The Daily Illini File Photo

A customers browses for produce at the Blue Moon Farms stand on May 19, 2018. The Market at the Square offers a variety of locally-grown produce.

By Ava Traverso

While the current state of the world and COVID-19 has led to canceled events, one thing has remained open and accessible: the humble farmers market. The Urbana Market on the Square is going strong Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. to noon until the end of October in the parking lot of Lincoln Square Mall. The Champaign Farmers Market is also still open Tuesdays, until the end of October asl well, from 3-6 p.m. at Washington and Neil streets. With many implemented changes, both markets look much different than what patrons have expected in the past. 

Some changes the Urbana Market on the Square has implemented include no touching merchandise until bagged and paid for, a preference toward credit or debit payments and food truck orders being to-go only. The Champaign Farmers Market has implemented multiple rules, too. A few of these include only one member from each household is allowed in (and no children), no seating and no consumption of food will be allowed on the site of the market. 

These regulations have been put into place by Champaign-Urbana for the safety of patrons and sellers. However, they have also led to complications for the market. To get a feel for these changes, Traci Barkley, the Director of Sola Gratia Farm, talked with buzz and gave her insight on her experience at the market. Sola Gratia Farm is an urban vegetable farm that started in 2012 and is a frequent vendor at both C-U farmers markets.

“We feel fortunate to be still able to sell our vegetables at the Urbana Market in the Square and Champaign Farmers Market and provide a safe way for community members to access good food,” Barkley said. “The experience has changed considerably with COVID-19.  Notably, market shoppers are coming to do just that, shop. Less attendance for socializing, more to secure food, meaning our sales have increased this season.”

Something good that has come out of the situation is that Sola Gratia Farm has increased staffing due to increased sales. However, this also means that their expenses for protective equipment like gloves and masks have increased as well. 

“We have also adjusted our stand, display and mode of operations to meet new health regulations. Of course, there is added stress due to working behind a mask and being aware of distancing and safety measures throughout the market hours,” said Barkley.

In my experience going to the Urbana Market on the Square over the past few weeks, what Barkley said has rung true: There’s a sense of urgency for people to get in and out with goods. It’s recommended to go to a farmers market with a game plan of items and get there as early as possible. Avoiding the crowds is a way to stay safe and get your pick of the bunch. 

Barkley added some insight to take away from this change.

“There are fewer links in the chain when you shop local and more people realize the importance of this,” she said. “Farmers markets provide a safe shopping experience, and we are lucky to have two strong markets in our community.”

If you are looking for more sustainable steps you can take in your life, shopping at a farmers market is a significant first step. Not only does it lead to a smaller carbon footprint between you and your food, but it also puts money and care back into our community. No matter which market you decide to attend, in Champaign or Urbana, you will likely want to make a routine of visiting your favorite vendors. 

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