Everything Evanston: A new challenge for the Evanston Farmers’ Market?

Ari Bernick and Joshua Perry

The 46-year-old Evanston Farmers’ Market managed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic by coming together as a community. Now, vendors and market organizers say they’re facing a new hurdle: a controversial relocation proposal that would force them to adapt to new circumstances again. It’s a decision that some believe could change the identity of the market itself.


ARI BERNICK: That’s the sound of hundreds of people visiting a small parking lot to buy fresh produce, plants and incredibly popular crepes. 

JOSHUA PERRY: The Evanston Farmers’ Market has been around for 46 years. In that time, it’s been a centerpiece of the local community. 

ARI BERNICK: It managed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic when other markets were still closed. 

JOSHUA PERRY: Now, it’s facing a new challenge: a potential relocation that is controversial among vendors and customers.

ARI BERNICK: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Ari Bernick. 

JOSHUA PERRY: And I’m Joshua Perry. This is Everything Evanston.


MYRA GORMAN: Everybody that came into the market, almost everybody said, ‘Thank you.’ That this was the one thing that they looked forward to all week long, because again, we were all in lockdown. 

ARI BERNICK: That’s Myra Gorman, Evanston Farmers’ Market manager. During the pandemic, the market had to make some major adjustments to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.

MYRA GORMAN: I worked with our health department — here in Evanston. We have our own health department. And we designed a bunch of protocols. So, the first thing I did was I measured the market, the field footprint of the market in this space. And I tried to figure out, “How can we provide a market where we had social distancing, and we had a designated entrance and exit?” So that we could control how many people came in at a time. As people were leaving, we could let more people in. 

JOSHUA PERRY: Myra worked with officials to reorganize the market’s layout to create a square that accommodated online ordering, supervised entrances and exits, and reduced contact with customers by switching to cashless methods of payment. These changes allowed the Evanston market to retain customers and continue doing business during the pandemic.

MYRA GORMAN: And we were one of the first markets to actually open on time last year. So we had a lot of other farmer market managers come here, we were on all the news stations, the (Associated Press) interviewed me. 

ARI BERNICK: The market also became popular for people outside of Evanston.

MYRA GORMAN: So we ended up with a lot of new customers. We had lots of people from Chicago that came here. And they continue to come here, because they realize that you come here, 20 minutes from Chicago, you park for free. You’ve got 50-some vendors, and then you go home.

JOSHUA PERRY: And they were busy.

MYRA GORMAN: We’re averaging between 5,000 and 7,000 customers every Saturday. 

ARI BERNICK: Despite the influx of new shoppers, vendors like Teresa Brockman of Teresa’s Fruit and Herbs, found it difficult to foster the same customer relations as before COVID-19.

TERESA BROCKMAN: It was really hard. Especially before, when the customers had to just come up one by one and we had to be five feet back from them with tables in between us. And it was sad, you know? Usually, the first couple of markets, you’re hugging everybody. But we couldn’t even talk because there’s a line of 20 people and you have to be like, “Okay, what do you want? Okay, bye.” You know? And get to the next person.

JOSHUA PERRY: Through all of these challenges, Gorman, market staff and vendors made an effort to bring the community together. The market and a local Evanston sewing shop partnered to create army fatigue masks for the farmers and vendors. 

MYRA GORMAN: All these people came and picked up these little gift bags filled with the mask material. And so they made, like, 200 masks for us, which was really amazing. And so everybody had a mask, so it was kind of cute.

ARI BERNICK: It wasn’t easy, but as a community, the market was able to sustain itself. Overall, vendors were able to survive the pandemic. But with one problem mostly figured out, there may be another on the horizon. The market might be forced to adapt to an entirely new issue soon: a proposed move several blocks away.


JOSHUA PERRY: The choice facing the city is simple at first glance. Evanston’s economic development committee is considering relocating the farmers market from its current location at the intersection of University Place and Oak Avenue to Fountain Square, a smaller area closer to downtown. 

ARI BERNICK: The committee’s reasoning is that the foot traffic brought by the Farmers’ Market might stimulate business in the surrounding area. But the proposed move isn’t without objection. Diane Joseph, who runs a booth for Sheekar Delights, said the transition would be too disruptive to the market. 

DIANE JOSEPH: This is our 10th season here at the market. We’ve established our customers here. (For) the past three years, four years, our customers really, really know who we are now. And my concern is moving the market to a different location, we’re gonna lose that.

JOSHUA PERRY: The move to Fountain Square would also be logistically challenging. First, it’s a significantly smaller venue than the current parking lot location, meaning fewer vendors would be able to set up shop. 

ARI BERNICK: Also, the proposed space is surrounded by more residential buildings, meaning noise and activity will have to be limited to later in the morning. Most farmers typically must arrive at 3 o’clock in the morning to have enough time to set up their stall. The new location would require farmers to wait until much later to arrive and start selling, which could upend the schedules of many farmers — especially ones traveling from neighboring states.

MYRA GORMAN: They don’t want trucks there until 7 a.m., which means that the market wouldn’t open until 10. 10 is too late for our farmers.

JOSHUA PERRY: Most farmers would have to arrive home late in the evening, meaning they’d have less time to unload their vehicles and prepare for another market the next day. In short, a postponement of even a few hours can have a huge effect on their weekend schedule.

ARI BERNICK: Jon First of 1st Orchards, a longtime vendor at Evanston’s market, said he’s doubtful that the proposal will even be successful in what it’s set out to achieve. He believes that the customer experience at the market will change for the worse when factors like parking space, proximity and timing are so greatly altered.

JON FIRST: In my own opinion, don’t think it’s gonna help downtown, because when people come to the Farmers’ Market, that’s their morning. They go to the farmers market, they go get whatever they need and talk to family, talk to neighbors, visit — it’s a whole different day. You know, it’s not like going to the store and shopping.

JOSHUA PERRY: First said the relocation proposal is forcing him to seriously consider his future selling in Evanston. If he were younger, First said he might accept a move to a new location. But not at this point in his career.

ARI BERNICK: Other farmers, especially veteran ones, are likely facing the same decision. First said he isn’t sure what decision they’ll make.

JON FIRST: Me, personally, I won’t move. I’ll be done. But I’m 60 years old, I’ve been here for 40 years almost. I’ve done my time.

JOSHUA PERRY: Gorman is especially concerned with keeping longtime farmers like John. She says the value and character of the Evanston Farmers’ Market is a direct result of the years of experience that veteran farmers bring to the table and the strong ties they have to the community here.

MRYA GORMAN: Our community is very blessed and fortunate to have farmers that work really hard. And small family farms are a dying breed. And I think people need to start realizing that once you start losing small family farms and it all becomes big corporate farms, then you lose the quality. 

ARI BERNICK: Keeping those farmers is a priority for Gorman because she says it’s worth preserving their contributions to the market’s legacy.

MYRA GORMAN: We’re gonna fight. We’re gonna fight it. And I am a city employee, so it’s kind of me fighting against my own employer, but you know, this market is 46 years old. And so it deserves to, I think, be respected for what it is and what it’s become.


ARI BERNICK: For The Daily Northwestern, I’m Ari Bernick.

JOSH PERRY: And I’m Joshua Perry. Thanks for listening to another episode of Everything Evanston. This episode was reported and produced by me and Ari Bernick. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Jordan Mangi, the digital managing editors are Alex Chun and Sammi Boas, and the editor in chief is Isabelle Sarraf. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @joshdperry

Email: [email protected]

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