Market at the Square has focus on supporting community
Urbana’s Market at the Square showcases and helps provide exposure to local vendors and artists, while aiding members of the community on food assistance programs through their acceptance of SNAP and Link Cards.
The Market at the Square in downtown Urbana, known unofficially as “Urbana’s Farmers Market,” has been a staple of Urbana since 1979.
“It was on and off before that, but in 1979 the city of Urbana officially took it over,” said Sterling Bollman, the assistant market director.
The market does a lot for the local community since all the vendors are local, meaning they are exclusively from the state of Illinois. This is a twofold benefit; members of the community know exactly who made their food, and it brings attention to the local farming communities.
“We sent out a survey a couple years ago trying to see what people described as local, and we found that as long as it’s in the state of Illinois people defined that as local. So, we really broadened our aspects of who we allow to come and this has helped us grow by being able to open up to those southernmost and northernmost produce vendors,” Bollman said.
Art and music also play an important role in the market. Artists at the market showing their creations currently have pieces such as wire art, metal art, and jewelry made out of silver spoon rings.
There are also programs at the market that allow performers to showcase their talents. Local musicians play for donations and entertainers perform whether it’s dance or a troupe act.
Apart from this there is also an “Art at the Market” every second Saturday of the month, which highlights a certain local maker or a certain musician.
Food vendors are also allowed into the market, however under one condition: they must source certain ingredients from vendors at the market.
“We highlight this and maybe say, ‘Hey, get this sandwich with Triple S bacon,’ and maybe the [partnership] goes over well and they incorporate it all the time in their food truck,” Bollman said, referencing the Stewardson, Ill.-based Triple S Farms.
The goal of keeping everything local and everyone knowing where things are from is important to the market.
The market also wishes to be inclusive of all members in the community. Members with Link Cards or are otherwise registered with food assistance programs are welcome into the market. All Link-eligible foods accept the assistance cards, although it is up to vendors whether they accept WIC, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, Children.
However, with Link, members can trade up to $20 from their Link cards into $40 in tokens, thanks to funding from Farm Credit and Link Up Illinois.
If the tokens are not used during the weekend they are able to be used the next weekend.
“I really love the program,” says Bollman. “It’s great here; people tell me ‘I wouldn’t be able to come here if it wasn’t for this. This is great.’ So, that’s a program we’re really proud to offer and really glad it exists. We want our market to be accessible to everyone.”
There is a different program every weekend on the first Saturday of the month.
“We have a different local chef come and we have them source materials from all throughout the market, and they will make little dishes for people to sample out and try,” Bollman said, “which helps people see what they can do with the ingredients and make it at home.”
There is also Sprout at the Market every third Saturday of the month. It is a children’s program aimed at educating them on food sourcing and what to do with certain foods.
On the fourth Saturday of the month is Read at the Market. The Urbana Free Library comes out to read books and allows those interested in checking out books to do so.
Market at the Square happens every Saturday until November 4 from 7 a.m.–12 p.m., rain or shine.