Kathryn Rem: In the market for local products

Kathryn Rem

Get ready for Springfield’s two farmers markets — one downtown and the other at the state fairgrounds — to open this month for the 2009 season.

May 14 is the first day of the Illinois Products Farmers Market held at the Illinois State Fairground’s Commodities Pavilion (across from the Grandstand). It will run from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Oct. 22, except for Aug. 13 and 20, when the area will be used for the Illinois State Fair.

“It was beyond what I had hoped for,” market manager Kristi Kenney said about last year’s inaugural season. “We’re not making many changes this year.”

But there will be a few tweaks:

* The University of Illinois Extension will have a permanent presence. Its area will showcase activities such as food demonstrations. Master gardeners will answer questions about gardening.

* Illinois wine will be sold by the winemakers themselves. Last year, their wine was sold by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association.

“People are interested in talking with the wine producers, so they’ll be traveling here,” said Kenney, a bureau chief for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

* A monthly e-mail newsletter about the market — with vendor profiles, recipes and trends — is in the works. When ready, subscribers will be able to sign up for it at the market’s Web site, www.illinoisproductmarket.com.

Like last year, the Web site will list vendors who will attend upcoming markets, along with their products. The market will be a collection point for fruits, vegetables and herbs donated to Plant a Row for the Hungry, a program that channels locally grown crops to the Central Illinois Foodbank.

* * *

Celebrating its 10th season, the Old Capitol Farmers Market will kick off Wednesday, May 20, and continue from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays through Oct. 31. A “preview day” for vendors with early season crops is slated for Wednesday, May 13, in the market’s regular location, Adams Street between Third and Fifth streets.

“It’s becoming almost like a social event with a ‘green’ atmosphere,” said market manager Ann Frescura of Downtown Springfield. “People are aware of the value of homegrown produce and healthy eating.”

Closing time this year has been moved to 12:30 p.m. from 1 p.m. Frescura said the reason is “to be courteous to downtown business owners.” Parking spots for their customers are limited on market days because of the crowds.

Highlights will include:

* An artisan area at Fourth and Adams street (first and third Saturdays) featuring paintings, photos, jewelry, woodworking, watercolors, crafts and other locally created art items for sale.

* Chef demonstrations using in-season market produce (third Saturdays).

* Live entertainment (third Saturdays), June through October.

* Health screenings, body-fat analysis, blood-pressure tests and other health-related activities offered by the market’s lead sponsor, St. John’s Hospital.

Opening day activities — starting at 10 a.m. May 20 — include live music by the Frank Trompeter Quartet, a cooking demo by chef Michael Higgins of Maldaner’s Restaurant and free cake (while it lasts) from Incredibly Delicious bakery.

“There are so many things going on at the market,” Frescura said. “You might come down for strawberries and tomatoes, but leave with a whole lot more.”

For more information about the two markets, contact Kenney at (217) 785-4873 and Frescura at (217) 544-1723.

Kathryn Rem can be reached at (217) 788-1520 orkathryn.rem@sj-r.com.