Market Fresh

Elizabeth Gibson

Three new vendors encountered a more than 30-year tradition Saturday at the first Evanston Farmers Market of the year.

The Farmers Market, which meets every week at the intersection of University Place and Oak Avenue, brings together customers and independent farmers from as far away as Michigan and Wisconsin. Fare ranges in price from 50-cent muffins to $75 flower planters.

Traders Point Creamery, Iron Creek Farms and Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin added to the outdoor market’s offerings Saturday. A fourth vendor newly scheduled for this year, Seedling Orchards, was not present.

Traders Point Creamery of Zionsville, Ind., catered to cheese connoisseurs. The dairy focuses on organic, whole-milk products such as yogurt in raspberry and banana mango flavors.

In the farmers market tradition, samples were readily available with yogurt bottles tapped and cubes of the company’s artisan cheese at the ready. The half-wheel of the dairy’s cheese available for sale ran out within the first 45 minutes, said Stuart Thompson, who manned Traders Point’s booth.

Thompson also offered tastes of chocolate milk – as long as guests didn’t have their hearts set on skim.

“We don’t believe in low-fat,” Thompson said.

Iron Creek Farms, another new arrival to the market, started out the season selling heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, cucumbers and lettuce.

Lettuce and tomatoes are two of the La Porte, Ind., farm’s specialties, according to Tamera Mark, who ran the farm’s booth with her 18-year-old daughter. Their other specialty, sweet corn, will appear around July 4, she said.

Selling goods at farmers markets is a family tradition for Mark. She’s been in the business for 30 years and her father did the same before her, she said.

The Evanston market’s “good reputation” lured Mark to the new venue, she said.

“The customers here have been very nice,” she said. “It was noticeable right away.”

Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin of Darlington, Wis., returned to Evanston’s market after a seven-year absence.

Brunkow salesman Joe Burns said he’s glad Evanston is one of the markets he’s working at again.

“We just didn’t have the manpower seven years ago,” he said. “But now we’re bigger and the farmers market is better. We’re pleased.”

Burns’ booth had plenty of samples, with three-, six- and 10-year aged cheddars out for tasting and purchasing along with some flavored cheese spreads.

Barbara Berngard, a customer at the Farmers Market Saturday, said she remembered the family-owned dairy from seven years ago and made a stop there.

“I’ve been coming for years and years,” she said. “You have a lot of regulars, and I have my favorites.”

The new booths were also a necessary stop for Michelle Kwak. The market has three dairies, two meat sellers and two bakeries, and Kwak said because she loves cheese, she welcomed the new additions.

“Not that it’s any cheaper than Whole Foods, but the outdoor environment is nice,” Kwak said. “I just wish they were open year round.”

The market, which is administered officially through the city government, runs from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday through Nov. 4. Vendors sign up to sell at the market for a year at a time, and this year the market is ready to host 34 vendors every weekend.

Five of the vendors booked, including newcomer Seedling Orchards, were not present Saturday because their products weren’t ready yet.

Evanston Farmers Market Coordinator Jean Speyer-Scruggs said all the groups should be selling by the second week of June.

Although Evanston holds one of the larger farmers markets in the Chicago area, the city is usually only one stop among many for the vendors. Most work at about seven farmers markets every weekend.

Traditions, Speyer-Scruggs said, will probably return to the market this year, including having aldermen talk to residents – a well-received custom begun last year – and fall festivities such as pumpkin carving in the last week of the market.

Musicians also will continue to play every week at the market.

But John Hoffman, a flower vendor at the market from Hoffman Garden Center, said prospects were better last year on opening day.

Still, the space was bustling with shoppers. The musician of the week, Gene Limu, Weinberg ’84, played School House Rock’s “Interjections” to a crowd of toddlers and adults. High school students pushed carts for tips. And all around sellers and customers called out: “See you next week.”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected]