The Oak Park Farmers Market’s 45th year officially ended on Saturday, Oct. 31.
Approximately 60,000 people entered the modified market at Lake and Scoville over its 23 weeks, with some Saturdays drawing as many as 3,000 attendees. More than 50 volunteers helped set up and manage the market each week with shifts starting at 4:30 a.m. Additionally, the market benefitted from heavy village of Oak Park presence with staff playing crucial roles to ensure the success and safety of the market.
“Market volunteers and village staff had more responsibilities than in years past,” said Colleen McNichols, market manager. “We had bodies everywhere. They were monitoring the number of people in the market, watching for infractions, and making sure safety protocols were being enforced.”
Vendors provided 50 gift bags filled with fresh produce, baked goods, microgreens, cookies and flowers to express appreciation for the 2020 market volunteers. Among those thanked was Jennifer Purrenhage, market commissioner and volunteer coordinator. Purrenhage is leaving after serving seven years on the highly active commission. According to McNichols, she will be missed because she “shows such enthusiasm and support for the market.”
To combat concerns related to COVID-19, the Oak Park Farmers Market partnered with What’s Good to offer a virtual market for the first time. The pre-order based curbside pickup program sold $127,723 in local food, flowers and plants this season.
The complex aggregation and pickup system were run by volunteers and commissioners with strong support from village staff. Most notably, Rachel Hahs, a commissioner, Robin Schirmer, formerly a market assistant, each volunteered 300 hours to manage the pilot program over the season.
“The virtual market allowed us to flourish in new ways,” said McNichols. “All the volunteers who made the virtual market a success helped their neighbors stay safe and healthy.”
A group of eight seniors including one “official grandma” would walk over to the farmers market weekly. They would sit in a socially distant circle near the information tent and chat while volunteers filled their shopping lists.
“We became like an unofficial senior center,” said McNichols. “The weekly gathering happened organically because of the new market logistics. The market provided a safe outdoor location for them to socialize and I became very attached to these people.”
McNichols was also pleased to report she did not receive a single complaint from market goers about the lines leading into the market.
“I believe market co-creator, Marge Gockel, would be proud to witness her beloved market thrive during a pandemic and complete a 45th season intact,” said McNichol’s of the market founder who died July 17. “Her spirit and grit live on with this market.”
McNichols does not know what the Oak Park Farmers Market will look like in 2021 but anticipates there will be multiple plans in place to ensure the success and safety of 46th season.