Inside the unique vendors of Urbana’s 39th annual farmers market
May 23, 2018
After a long, cold winter, vendors and artists come together for Urbana’s annual Market at the Square event to feature their local produce, handmade art, Illinois-raised meats and fresh-from-the-oven baked goods. The farmers market hosts visitors every Saturday beginning May 5 through October 27 from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine.
Since 1979, the Market at the Square has had an average of 80 vendors and over 3,500 visitors weekly, according to their website. However, this year, the market is home to 103 vendors including nitrogen-infused coffee, organic clothing artisans, hunger-fighting farmers and free nutrition programming for children.
University alumni Grant Garland and Will Newton, founders of NitroCup, offer visitors the chance to try their nitrogen brewed coffee every Saturday. At coffee shops, nitrogen-infused coffee is usually stored in a pressurized keg and poured from a tap, but for Newton and Garland, their shop is on a large tricycle.
NitroCup’s second year has been off to a great start after a long winter, Garland and Newton said in an email. The duo said Saturdays at the market always feels like a community party that always brings great energy around their tent. The coffee shop on wheels doesn’t provide milk or sugar, they said.
“You don’t need it,” Newton and Garland said. “It’s smooth every single time. We believe our process and unique blend of coffee combine to make NitroCup an option for any coffee drinker.”
Another Champaign-Urbana native and young entrepreneur decided to make her hobby of tie-dying clothing a profitable company. Morgan Banta, owner of To Dye For by Morgan, creates original hand-dyed clothing and accessories. Banta said she’s been crafting for over 10 years alongside her mother and stepmother.
“We noticed that there wasn’t any tie-dye being sold a few years ago and decided I should apply to be a vendor,” Banta said. “My mom, stepmom and I work together as a team and we truly enjoy it. We are blessed to be part of this community.”
Although this is Banta’s second year as a vendor, she has had several years of experience at the Market at the Square. Her massive success as an entrepreneur has allowed her to continue the art of the colorful patterns, which attract many visitors weekly.
One of Urbana’s veteran vendors operating out of St. Matthew Lutheran Church is Sola Gratia Farm. Farm manager Hunter DiFonso said the farm was created as a response to the increasing food insecurity rate in central Illinois. Their mission is to donate as much as they can to charities and local food banks with the help from employees and volunteers, he said.
“We have employees at the farm, but most of the work is done by volunteers,” DiFonso said. “It’s a way to build the community and really expand on our mission of helping those in need.”
In the last six years since Sola Gratia’s emergence, the farm has donated approximately 30 percent of its produce, creating a higher demand for growing space, according to their website. DiFonso said the farm has plans to expand to continue their mission of feeding the hungry of central Illinois.
“We normally have two spaces filled up with greens,” DiFonso said. “It’s still early in the season and we have tons of vegetables growing except potatoes. Most people ask why we don’t have potatoes, but I just don’t have the tools to harvest them.”
Like Sola Gratia, several local vendors have goals to make their products affordable for lower-income families in need of fresh fruits and vegetables through Illinois’ Link program.
Market at the Square aims to improve access to healthy food due to Illinois’ Wireless Project Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps or Link, are accepted by vendors selling eligible goods, said Farm Credit Illinois’ Marketplace Initiatives Manager Beth Bolger.
“Farmers markets bring rural and urban communities together to celebrate local food and support the local economy,” Bolger said. “The SNAP Double Value program helps provide access to fresh and seasonal food grown right here in our community The program helps bring more customers to the market, in turn enhancing the value for farmers and our local food system.”
SNAP recipients can bring their Link cards to be registered for wooden tokens for purchases each worth $1. Patrons can receive a $1 coupon for every dollar spent with a limit of $20 at participating markets funded by Farm Credit and LINK Up Illinois, according to the website. The goal of these programs is to provide access to fresh and locally-grown produce to low-income residents.
Urbana’s annual Market at the Square features a plethora of local produce, talented artisans and baked goods every Saturday and everyone is welcome to attend.
“We encourage everyone to come to the Market at the Square just because it’s fun to see how much you can actually get out of it,” Garland and Newton said.