It is a farmers market with a mission. Green City Market in Lincoln Park bills itself as Chicago’s only truly “green” farmers market, linking farmers to chefs and the Chicago community. And even when the seasons are changing, this year-round sustainable market offers a bounty of locally grown foods.
It started in 1998 with a handful of vendors in the alley next to the Chicago Theatre.
Founder Abby Mandel wanted the fresh fruit and vegetables she saw in the markets of Europe available in Chicago.
“She sort of begged some farmers to come on, begged some chefs to support it and from there it just kept growing and growing,” said Melissa Flynn, executive director of Green City Market. “So we started with about six vendors and now we have typically 50 to 55 vendors. All local.”
Farmers are rigorously screened and must be certified organic by a third party.
“We want to give farmers who are doing the right thing – growing organically, growing sustainably and leaving the Earth better – an opportunity," said Flynn.
In an effort to provide fresh produce to everyone in the city, the market accepts the Link card, which provides assistance to low-income families and individuals in Illinois through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“We think there should be access to good food to all people so we have our Link program, and then we double the value by raising money on our own,” said Flynn. “So for instance, if you put $15 on your Link card, we’ll give you another $15 free so that everybody has access to good, healthy food.
Held outdoors from May through October, the Green City Market moves into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for the rest of the year. The produce is always seasonal.
“That’s what so fun about shopping,” said Flynn. “Each week there’s something different. … Each week it’s a new experience.”
They also operate a 5,000 square foot teaching garden next to the farm in the Lincoln Park Zoo.
“So everybody from kids to adults can come get their hands dirty and see how things grow from seed, they can help sort things out, can help plant and harvest, and of course they get to taste what they’re growing,” said Flynn.
You might not expect to find wood-burning pizza at a farmer’s market, but the Nomad Food Company is part of the market’s mission.
“We’re super proud to source all of our ingredients here at the market,” said Jared Batson of the Nomad Food Company. “From all the wonderful vendors we have here, all of our produce -- our cheeses, specialty products like black garlic -- we come here and it’s our shopping center twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday.”
The market also features chef demos so you can learn how to cook the produce you find, and there's also a seasonal cookbook. (Below, a recipe for seasonal stuffing – you can find more recipes on their website.)
“You can literally open to a page for summer and find right at the market the ingredients you need in the cookbook,” said Flynn. “We try to make it accessible and easy to eat healthy and shop local.”
Autumn Vegetable Stuffing
Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris of Prairie Grass Cafe
Serves 4-6 people
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 T. chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup diced onions
- 1/4 cup celery root
- 1/2 cup parsnips
- 1 cup diced apples
- 1/2 cup diced butternut squash
- 1/2 cup chestnuts (cooked, peeled and chopped)
- 1/2 cup whole chestnuts (cooked and peeled)
- 2 cups chicken or turkey stock (intense flavor)
- 2 cups Bennison's Beguette chunky bread crumbs
- 3 T. whole sweet butter
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1 T. olive oil or clarified butter
In a large pan, saute in olive oil the thyme, onions, celery root and parsnips until almost tender, stirring regularly. Add the apples, butternut squash and chestnuts. Continue to cook and stir until all the vegetables are tender. Add the chicken stock and simmer. Add the bread crumbs and butter. Mix well. Allow to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
Bake in 350 degree oven for twenty minutes or use as a replacement for any traditional stuffing.