Fresh Goods Abound at Winter Markets

It’s no secret that the farmers market is a prime place to stock up on farm-fresh sweet corn, apples, peaches and all variety of produce – not to mention related items like preserves, floral bouquets and baked goods. Think of it like an open-air grocery store, except it’s all farmers and producers who typically live within an hour’s drive.

But did you know many of those markets are still going all winter long? Not only are they good for finding fresh, healthy foods, but they’re also a fun, family-friendly outing.

Woodstock Indoors Market
When: Saturday, Feb. 19, March 5 & 19, April 2, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., at McHenry County Fairgrounds
This market is considered a gold standard after decades of operating on the Woodstock Square and at the county fairgrounds.

At least 60% of vendors are farmers, so you’re guaranteed to find things like apples, hydroponically or greenhouse-grown produce, canned or preserved vegetables, meats and eggs. There are also folks selling things like cheese, olive oil, baked goods, granola, hot soup and more.

Most vendors come from within 90 miles of Woodstock. Market founder Keith Johnson visits every operation to ensure quality for consumers and reinforce the value of supporting local.

“If the local farmers are gone tomorrow, the prices in the store are going to go up,” says Amy Fowler, owner of Mimi’s Pet Treats. “I think a lot of people may have realized that with the recent pandemic because prices did go up. It was harder to get things.”

Farmers Market+ in The Dole
When: Sunday, Feb. 27, March 13 & 27, April 10, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at The Dole in Crystal Lake
The Dole’s Farmers Market+ has a block party feel to it, with kids activities, farmers, food trucks and other vendors at the Dole Mansion. About 40 vendors, plus live entertainers, have been gathering indoors this winter.

It’s easy to find something new on every visit. John Kasperk, of River Valley Ranch in Burlington, Wis., sells several types of mushrooms as well as mushroom salsas, mushroom burgers, pasta sauces and frozen soups.

“They might cost a little more at the markets, but the quality and the taste are a step above what you’re getting elsewhere,” he says. “The biggest comment I get is, ‘Wow, I bought those mushrooms two weeks ago and they’re still in my fridge and they still look good.’”

Proceeds from the market support Service League of Crystal Lake and continued upkeep of the 160-year-old mansion. The market heads outdoors in May.

Lake Zurich Indoor Market
When: First, third and fifth Sunday, November through May, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at Paulus Park Chalet in Lake Zurich

For nearly eight years, this market has drawn families for a Sunday outing.

“It has a strong community feel that I haven’t seen in a lot of other places,” says Maryam Wood, co-owner of Middleton’s Preserves.

Set inside a community park with views of the lake, this market is intimate, with just eight to 10 vendors, but there’s a surprising array of food represented. Wood sells fresh produce from her Wadsworth farm and a network of microfarms. Her fellow vendors supply baked goods, jerky, hydroponically grown greens and other treats. Event organizer Nick Janovski sells meat and eggs. Glenn D. Gonzalez and his Azteca Catering Co. sell homemade salsas and nine types of tamales to-go.

Not only do dollars at the market support these small businesses, but they also reduce the number of miles food travels from the farm to your plate.

“By supporting local, you’re ensuring that you’re eating healthier and you’re continuing to ensure that we, as small farmers and producers, have the ability to provide your food,” says Wood.

Those who can’t make the market can contact vendors via their websites or the market’s Facebook page.

St. Charles Farmers Market
When: Every Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at Baker Memorial Methodist Church
This blended market sells food-related items alongside artisan crafts, health products, clothing and jewelry.

Among the vendors is Grandma’s Farm Fresh Eggs, a family-owned farm that has been operating since 1868. Sixth-generation owner Bonnie Ogle and her family are longtime vendors at the summertime outdoor market and have recently started selling indoors, as well.

For Ogle, there are many advantage of purchasing from a farmers market.

“A customer can ask us, ‘How do you raise your chickens?’” Ogle says. “They can ask us if we put additives in our feed or chemicals on our pasture. The answer is no to both. People are seeking out things that are local because they can talk directly to the producer.”