Champaign Farmers’ Market holding event with Parkland organizations

Farmers Market ProspectusPeter Floess

Staff Writer

The Champaign Farmers’ Market is having a “Parkland College Day” on Sept. 20, working with numerous Parkland and community institutions to turn the market into an almost fair-like experience.

“[S]hoppers who show us their student or faculty ID can enter to win a fabulous market gift basket,” said manager of the Champaign Farmers’ Market—and Parkland communications instructor—Susan Simeziane. “We’ll be joined by the Parkland Science Club with fun experiments and demonstrations. WPCD will be out broadcasting from the Market, and the Parkland Sustainability Club will be volunteering. You’ll also find kids’ activities with the Champaign Center Partnership, as well as the third in our series of Secrets of a Seasonal Cook chef demonstrations, featuring Chef Alisa DeMarco, former chef at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, as well as Chef Drew Starkey from Bacaro, in downtown Champaign. They’ll be highlighting seasonal ingredients and giving shoppers some ideas of different ways to use them.”

Britt Carlson, the faculty advisor for the Parkland Science Club, is teaming up with Parkland Students for Sustainability to offer “various hands-on science activities” at the market.

“Activities we have done in the past include making balloons using baking soda and vinegar, making oobleck from cornstarch and exploring its strange properties, and using clay and skeleton models to explore how muscles attach to bone, among others,” Carlson said.

Oobleck is a liquid made from water and cornstarch that behaves differently from your everyday liquids, with a seemingly-variable viscosity, or thickness, that is effected by its environment and the conditions it is exposed to.

Thor Petersen, advisor to the Parkland Students for Sustainability says the club will also be working to advance its namesake at the market.

“[We’ll be] giving demonstrations on both do it yourself green cleaning recipes and homemade healthy personal care products,” Petersen said. “We’ll be giving away recipe cards with instructions on how to create these alternatives to the more expensive and less environmentally friendly store-bought versions of laundry soap, surface cleaners, deodorants, and other products.”

Simeziane says the focus of the farmers’ market is to provide area consumers with agricultural goods—vegetables, fruits, meats, et cetera—produced locally, “within 150 miles of Champaign-Urbana.”

“We want to support new and/or small-scale, local farmers who are committed to sustainable practices, to help farmers who are just starting out establish their names on the local food scene,” Simeziane said.

She also says the market works to help those with financial troubles gain access to this local produce.

“We offer a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) doubling program, where we’ll match SNAP purchases up to $20 every week in order to help struggling families expand their food budgets,” she said. “Shoppers who receive SNAP benefits can swipe their [Illinois] Link card in exchange for tokens that can be used with the vendors for SNAP-eligible products. We then match their purchase up to $20 [per] week out of a fund we’ve built up through sponsorships and grants. This mean that a shopper can swipe their card for just $20 off their account, but actually get $40 to spend.”

She says these points accumulated do not disappear at the end of the day; they carry over each day until the end of the market’s season. She says it also has a positive effect on the local economy.

“The great thing about this program is that not only does it help the customers, but all that money goes directly into the pockets of our local farmers. Research has shown that a dollar spent at a farmers’ market can have around twice the economic impact as one spent at a supermarket,” she said.

This Parkland Day is during the Central Illinois Eat Local September Challenge. The Challenge is organized by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. ISA’s outreach coordinator, Molly Gleason, says the point of the Challenge is “to connect diversified farmers in central Illinois with community members, restaurants, retailers, and other buyers, as well as raise awareness for the importance of buying locally and celebrate the wide variety of locally-grown and artisan food products that are unique to Illinois.”

“[A] 2011 study by Ken Meter found that if central Illinois residents bought just 15 percent of their food directly from local farmers, this would generate $639 million dollars for the region’s farms, keeping that money in the local economy,” Gleason said. “The bottom line is that buying locally is better for you, better for the environment, and better for the economy.”

The Champaign Farmers’ Market, located at 310-330 North Neil St., is every open Tuesday 4 to 7 p.m. through October. More information on the market can be found at their web portal, thelandconnection.org/market.