Meat mavens will have a new choice in butchers this summer when the Farmers' Market opens June 4.
An ordinance passed in September allows for two vendors to sell meat at the summer Saturday market, provided it is processed at a government-approved plant, shrink-wrapped and kept frozen until sold in Oak Park.
"We're trying to reduce as much of the risk as we can," said Mike Charley, environmental health supervisor for the Village of Oak Park.
The two vendors had been chosen as of the end of last week, said David Powers, village spokesman.
Farmers' Market Manager Nicole English said the two vendors are from downstate Illinois.
"This is not just someone who's doing a backyard operation out of their home," English said.
What makes a steak from the Farmers' Market different from one bought at Whole Foods, Jewel or an independent grocery? Personality, of course.
One of the hallmarks of the Farmers' Market is shoppers' ability to talk with the person who raised the product offered, English said.
"Oak Parkers like to be able to ask questions about the product," she said.
Meat at the market will be produced with "sustainable farm practices," which English admitted is a "vague term that could mean a variety of different things." In Oak Park, it means the animals were grown locally without the use of routine antibiotics, no growth hormones, no animal products in the feed (which can cause, among other things, mad cow disease), the animals are mostly pasture-fed, and the farmers take special care in where they get the animals they raise.
The idea to add meat to the market offerings came two and a half years ago after a survey of customers showed interest in buying both meat and bread in addition to the vegetables, flowers and, of course, donuts already available. Bread is still a ways off, English said, because it is difficult to find a local grain farmer who is also a baker.
English has also looked, but not found, a vendor who could sell locally-raised fish.
She hopes the addition of meat will bring more people to the farmers' market, but said that the move was made primarily to provide people continuing to come to the market with something new.
Safety against food-borne illness led the village board to enact the requirement that the meat be frozen, Charley said. While it doesn't kill anything, freezing slows the growth of micro organisms?#34;present everywhere?#34;to an "infinitesimal" rate.
Once purchased, though, the same rules apply to shoppers as if they'd bought the meat at a grocery store. "The sooner they get it home the better," Charley said. English will check during market hours that the meat for sale is being kept at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Charley said the farmers' market in Evanston, his former employer, has sold frozen, prepackaged meat for years successfully.
The market will celebrate its 30th anniversary on July 16.