Next weekend, on May 5, Urbana’s Market At The Square will kick off its 2012 season and we can’t wait! The Market is one of the highlights of the year here in Champaign-Urbana, and is a great place to buy delicious, local produce and baked goods and handmade artisan treasures — and just to wile away a sunny Saturday morning with the family. And you can stop by and see us each month, during the Sprouts at the Market Days!
We asked Lisa Bralts, director of the Market At The Square, to give us a sneak peek of what we will see next Saturday and beyond.
What’s different at the market this year? New vendors, new rules, anything exciting we should keep an eye out for? Have any popular vendors left the market?
There’s always something new at the Market! This year there are a few changes – for example, we’ll be moving our participating community organizations back into the Market area; patrons can find them in Row 5, across from the food trucks,. We’ll also be moving the city tent into a more visible location. In order to do this, the corner near Health Alliance and Common Ground Food will be blocked off at the west and north ends – vehicular traffic will no longer be able to go around the corner. This won’t affect the number of available parking spaces, and has the added bonus of making foot traffic between the Market and Lincoln Square significantly safer. Another new addition to the Market will be live acoustic performances by a different local artist each month in the Walnut Street area just west of the Market. Urbana’s Public Arts program is the co-sponsor of this programming – Christina McClelland, our Public Arts Coordinator, is busy booking the talent. These performances will occur in conjunction with the Art at the Market workshops, which happen on the last Saturday of every month. All of this is completely free!
We’ll have several new produce vendors, such as PrairiErth Farm from Atlanta, Ill. We’ll have a cow’s milk cheese vendor in Ludwig Farmstead Creamery from Fithian, Ill. Look for new bakery options, too! As always, we’ll have new artisans along with returning favorites.
We did lose one vendor to retirement this season – Steve and Connie Owens (Owens Enterprises, St. Anne, Ill.) are no longer attending the Market, where they sold their gorgeous flowers at the north end of Row 2. Don’t fret, though – another flower grower from the same area – and the same extended family! – will be selling the same mix of gladiolas, tuberose, zinnias, mixed bouquets, and other flowers that Market patrons have been buying from Steve and Connie for many years. I want to thank them both for being such great vendors to work with. We wish them all the best.
What kind of non-food goods will we see at the market this year?
I’m pretty excited about the return of Happy Hybrids and Sampson & Delilah, and there are a couple of new textile folks that should be interesting, too. We’ll have soap and other personal care products. Upcycled clothing is very popular. There will be woodturning and photography, glass art and wood jewelry.
Are there any special events planned in conjunction with market days this year?
Our kids’ programming, Sprouts at the Market, will be huge this season. We start off on May 19 with the Master Gardeners doing a seed-planting workshop with the kids, and we’ll have five more events after that – June 16, July 21, August 18, September 15, and October 6. There’s more information available at the Sprouts webpage, and you can follow Sprouts on Facebook, too. As I mentioned above, Art at the Market happens on the last Saturday of each month, too. Both programs are completely free. And the Urbana Free Library comes out on the first Saturday of every month with books and balloons for the kids.
What kind of produce will we see during the opening month of the market?
The weather this spring has been so crazily warm overall that I expect things will be a week or two ahead of schedule, even with a cooler April. You’ll see asparagus, lots of salad greens, spinach, kale, chard, radishes, maybe some rhubarb. I’m sure you’ll see plenty of gorgeous spring flowers, too, like peonies.
Can you give us an idea of the various seasons? So, for example: Look for berries in June, look for peaches in July, etc?
May is usually a time for spring foods – the greens, the asparagus, the radishes, maybe some peas – things that can tolerate chilly weather. June sees us moving into more summery foods, though the month can be very different weather-wise at either end. We’ve seen sweet corn and peaches in June, but I wouldn’t count on those – strawberries, blueberries, lots of lettuces and early onions, continued kale and chard and peas, broccoli and early squash are much more reliable. July is the ascent to peak season – peaches, tomatoes by the end of the month, sweet corn, summer squash, cucumbers, string beans, peppers, onions and garlic, potatoes, melons by the end of the month, and much more; you can expect those things all the way through August, too, and into September. Mid-September through October you’ll see winter squashes and pumpkins, apples, the return of cool-weather salad greens, lots of potatoes and onions, carrots, and maybe some Brussels sprouts, if we’re lucky!
We had a very mild winter; do you think we will see an unusual abundance of produce this year because of it?
I think the potential to see an abundant amount of produce is there, especially if we get the right amount of rain and the bugs aren’t too bad. The mild winter has certainly meant more insects!