Village Farmstand brings locally grown food to the Main-Dempster Mile

Matt+Wechsler+founded+Village+Farmstand.+The+storefront+opened+its+doors+on+Dempster+Street+in+August.

Courtesy Village Farmstand

Matt Wechsler founded Village Farmstand. The storefront opened its doors on Dempster Street in August.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Matt Wechsler, an Evanston resident and filmmaker, remembers his first experience at a farmer’s market in 2012. There, he fell in love with the flavors of locally grown produce and learned about how it was grown.

At the time, Wechsler couldn’t imagine himself spending hours every day stocking shelves with rainbow carrots, honey crisp apples and fresh goat cheese. But now, as the owner of Village Farmstand, a new market in the Main-Dempster Mile, Wechsler hopes to provide small farmers with a place to sell their produce.

“We want to be part of a more equitable food system, and help grow farm communities so they can thrive,” Wechsler said.

Wechsler’s first visit to a farmer’s market inspired him and his wife to create a documentary film called “Sustainable,” which premiered in 2016 and tells the story of sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices in the United States.

While filming, Wechsler met Marty Travis, the owner of Spence Farm in Illinois. On his farm, Travis grows a variety of crops and raises animals. Wechsler and Travis developed a friendship that would prove to be beneficial for years to come, especially during the pandemic, as restaurants in the Chicagoland area were forced to close.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, Wechsler reached out to Travis, who had suddenly lost the majority of his business. He wanted to help Travis and other small farmers find a new market for their goods. When local bakery Hewn Bread moved out of its storefront on Dempster Street, Wechsler saw the empty space as an opportunity. He said farmers were being forced to kill crops and dump milk because of a decline in business, but he had a solution.

“COVID showed us that the industrial model of food production is failing us when we need it most,” Wechsler said. “I felt like a natural progression into the food space for me was opening a little grocery store that supported farmers and provided an end market for them.”

After months of planning, Village Farmstand opened on August 28 at 810 Dempster St. Wechsler describes the space as a micro-warehouse. It has shelves lined with produce and pantry staples, as well as coolers and freezers packed with meat and dairy products.

Customers can place orders on Village Farmstand’s website at any time and pick up their orders Thursday through Sunday. Wechsler said the farmstand works with about 30 to 35 farms across the Midwest right now, and he constantly updates the store’s website with new products.

One of the farms Village Farmstand works with is Gunthorp Farms. The farm’s owner, Greg Gunthorp, said his farm supplies the store with products like pork, chicken and turkey. Gunthorp’s farm has sold meat in the Chicagoland area for over 20 years, and supplies its products to numerous restaurants. Gunthorp sees selling his products at Village Farmstand as a way to expand his farm’s reach.

“Matt started the Farmstand as a means for consumers to connect with farmers,” Gunthorp said. “We’ve previously done that on a more commercial level, so this opportunity is new for us.”

Katherine Gotsick, executive director of the Main-Dempster Mile, said the community is grateful that Village Farmstand filled the void Hewn Bread left when it moved to Central Street.

She’s impressed by how Wechsler adjusts his store’s inventory weekly, and constantly supplies customers with products that are fresh, organic and promote green living. Gotsick said Wechsler brought the farmstand to the right place at the right time.

“What we lost with Hewn, Village Farmstand brought back,” Gotsick said. “It’s been very cool to watch Matt’s vision come to life.”

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