Fresh produce, award winning barbecue, and a Prosperity Garden run by the Boys and Girls Club are amongst the attractions that residents can enjoy at the Champaign Farmers Market on Thursdays from 3PM to 7PM. Located on a city parking lot behind the Champaign Police Department, the market brings opportunities for socializing, learning about local issues, and eating well to a part of the community, which has been neglected over the years. Champaign residents, neighbors from surrounding towns, and all their dogs are encouraged to mix and mingle over the variety of sights, sounds and tastes found there.
According to market manager, Wendy Langacker, the market was started by the North 1st Street Association, a group of business owners who wanted to have something to encourage economic development in the area. One way to do this was to bring more people to the area, and they decided that a farmers market could do just that. Unlike traditional models of urban renewal which historically displace people within an area, this effort seeks to respect and build on the history of the neighborhood and the people who live there. This approach aims to be mutually beneficial; bringing more customers in and offering valuable goods and services for current residents.
The Champaign Farmers Market developed as a “bare bones” project, and a lot of the resources are geared towards meeting the needs of the area. For instance, Langacker runs her office out of her home, and one of the first things the market invested in was a machine that would accept Link cards. Nicole Bridge, from the Boys and Girls Club, also commented on what the market website refers to as the “Double Value Program”, by which a Link card holder can purchase twenty dollars worth of fresh produce for ten dollars. Since processed food often tends to be less expensive than fresh produce, this enables individuals of limited means to partake in the farmers market on a more equitable level.
The connections between the market and the Prosperity Garden expand the impact of both efforts. Bridge, who works with kids from the Boys and Girls Club, said, “A lot of my kids hate [fruits and] vegetables, don’t eat them, or just eat strawberries.” Recognizing this, one of the goals for the Prosperity Garden is to expand the horizons of participants. Bridge noted that the participants have been doing a good job of both weeding and mulching the garden. Organizers and participants in the Prosperity Garden hope to start selling fresh produce at the market as it becomes available. Next to the garden, a structure is being built which will offer cooking classes and demonstrations to market patrons and members of the Boys and Girls club. It is expected that construction will be complete before the current season ends.
In addition to her role with the Boys and Girls Club, Bridge has been involved with the market since its inception. She finds that the market helps to promote a neighborhood feel within the community. Langacker noted this as well and added that the market is being designed to be a relaxed environment where community members can engage with one another and develop relationships with the vendors. There is little hustle and bustle at the market. Langacker is careful to encourage a slow and controlled growth of vendors. She encourages new vendors to bring the ‘best’ of what they have to offer customers so they can build their own businesses and relationships within the community. These efforts are bearing fruit.
Beverly Lacy of Lord and Lacy Famous Kansas City Style Barbecue finds that the atmosphere encourages partnerships within the community. For the last two seasons, the Lacy’s have been selling their award winning barbecue to hungry patrons of the market. Lacy enjoys the camaraderie in the community that she grew up in, and says the market offers potential for people from all walks of life. She describes the market as a group of very friendly people who help each other out like a small, extended, family. It’s a family that is always looking for new members. For more information: Go to https://sites.google.com/site/farmersmarketnorth1st/.