Buffalo Grove market hoping to win national award
Slava Syota of Vernon Hills amuses his wife Anna by using "the Russian Way" of checking melons for ripeness at the Buffalo Grove Farmers Market Sunday in Buffalo Grove. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Vote for Buffalo Grove
• Shoppers at the Buffalo Grove Farmer’s Market can vote for it to win the American Farmland Trust’s “America’s Favorite Farmer’s Market” contest at http://action.farmland.org/site/PageServer?pagename=best_local_farmers_market_vote. The contest concludes at 11 p.m. Sept. 2.
• The market is open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sundays (except Sept. 2) at Mike Rylko Community Park, 951 McHenry Road.
Updated: September 10, 2012 6:15AM
The newcomers in the world of farm marketing are taking another swing at the title.
The organizers of the Buffalo Grove Farmer’s Market have funding from Village Hall, a modern variety of offerings and a good location, and they believe that in their third year of existence, they might be able to win the title of “best farmer’s market in the country.”
The market’s officials entered their enterprise in the “America’s Favorite Farmer’s Markets” contest, a public-relations campaign put on annually by a conservation group called the American Farmland Trust. Megan Horst-Hatch, a volunteer with Buffalo Grove’s market, said she believed the young group was ready to challenge last year’s state champion (Woodstock) and other more established names.
“I don’t think the market’s age has anything to do with it,” Horst-Hatch said. “I think it’s about the offerings that the organizers have put together.”
Buffalo Grove is competing in the “mid-sized” category; winners are determined solely by online voting (see subbox), and the Trust publishes the top five finishers for each state and the top 20 for the nation.
Horst-Hatch said she was certain that a good finish was realistic for the new group: Last year, fifth place required only 97 votes.
“It’s a really wonderful thing, to have national recognition and state recognition, to say ‘We have a great market,’” Horst-Hatch said.
Of course, some of Buffalo Grove’s neighbors/competitors have had great markets for years — in the case of Evanston, 12 times longer. Myra Gorman, manager of Evanston’s Farmers’ Market, said the 37-year-old operation brought in several new attractions for this summer in hopes of keeping its downtown parking lot full.
“We want you to be able to come and buy everything for that evening’s dinner,” Gorman said Monday.
Or, have breakfast or lunch right there, she added. Evanston has added baked-good and honey vendors, and a seating area in one corner, giving visitors the chance to enjoy their purchases on the spot if they choose.
“You can shop, you can eat, you can sit and talk with your friends,” Gorman said. “You don’t have to just come and shop, you can come and stay.”
Another of the area’s best-regarded markets, though, is only one year older than Buffalo Grove. Northbrook’s operation, founded in 2009, is an all-volunteer operation; market manager Dale Duda said their young group has made similar additions for 2012.
“You have to be more than a farmer’s market,” Duda said.
Northbrook has focused on adding educational programs and recycling opportunities, Duda said. She and Gorman said convincing the 21st Century customer to drive past the air-conditioned grocery store requires accessories and a rotating schedule of attractions.
“They’re a lot more work than just putting on a weekly market, but people expect more nowadays,” Duda said. “It’s been a huge learning curve.”
Horst-Hatch said Buffalo Grove’s organizers believed that they were in a good spot on that curve. This year, their operation offers antique appraisals, cooking demonstrations and several entertainers.
“We have been so careful about making sure that we have the right number of produce farmers, the right number of cheese,” she said. “Variety is so important, so you don’t have too much of any one thing.
“Every Sunday is a little bit different than the Sunday before.”
Horst-Hatch said she learned about the AFT’s contest last year, while simply looking up information about the changing trends in farmer’s markets on the internet. She noted that Buffalo Grove competed for the title last year, as well, but did not market their effort much.
“We didn’t really get too many votes,” said said.
Both Duda and Gorman had heard of the contest, but neither is running in it — mostly because of the documentation entrants must produce.
“It’s a lot of work,” Duda said.
She also stressed that, regardless of where the AFT’s competitors in Illinois finish in the rankings, any group that wants to carry the title of “real” farmer’s market must be sure of their vendors’ authenticity. Subversive retailers are known to simply buy wholesale batches of produce coming from Mexico, Chile or elsewhere in the US, then claim they were locally grown to sell them at a farmer’s market.
“Customers want to be sure that the produce they are buying is locally grown,” Duda said.
Horst-Hatch said that Buffalo Grove, at age 3, was ready to claim the title of not only “real,” but “best” in Illinois…maybe in the country.
“We’ve got our teeth cut, so to speak,” she said. “It really is a special market.”
“Good luck to Buffalo Grove, I hope they win it.”