Set your alarm clock and mask up — the Oak Park Farmers Market is set to begin its 46th season on Saturday, May 22 at 7 a.m. After the pandemic forced the market to relocate last year, the 2021 market is returning to the Pilgrim Church parking lot at Lake Street and Elmwood while still honoring social distancing requirements.
“The market is going to be comfortable and safe,” said Cameron Davis, assistant director of development customer services and staff liaison to the farmers market commission. “Not everyone has the capability to walk long distances and the shorter market route will benefit many customers.”
Maximizing walkable square footage in the market was a top priority for organizers. While the layout will look similar to previous markets held in the large lot, with vendors spaced along the perimeter, the arrangement of center aisle vendors has been shrunk to create significantly wider walking paths through the market.
The planned market layout has 13,000 square feet of non-vendor space. Phase four guidelines allow for 195 shoppers to be inside the market at one time — 20 more people than were permitted inside the 2020 modified market. Market capacity would increase to nearly 400 people should Illinois enter the bridge phase under the Restore Illinois Plan.
The Oak Park Farmers Market will welcome masked guests at a single point of entry on Lake Street; should the market fill to capacity a line will snake west on Lake and north on Scoville. Inside the market traffic will flow one-way in a counterclockwise direction, but unlike last year guests will be able to make multiple loops through the market before exiting through one of two exits. According to Davis a shopper would have to make four laps around the market in the Pilgrim lot to cover a distance equivalent to a single trip through the modified u-shaped market last year.
Approximately 20 vendors are participating in the 2021 market. Market goers should expect to see familiar and popular vendors like Katic Breads, J2K Capraio, and R.Smits “The Farm” at the market weekly. Knife sharpening services will be available at American Pride Microgreens. Organic produce vendor, Iron Creek, is making a notable return to the market this year and will occupy a large space in the northeast corner of the market. After a successful first season the hyper-local Oak Park farmers behind Chanticlare Farms will return this year. Shoppers will find them positioned on the east side of the market between Three Bees Honey and Breadman Baking Company.
Davis indicated organizers are still interested in attracting a couple more vendors to the market and are working diligently to find a plant and flower focused farm interested in signing on for the season.
“It is most exciting that so many returning vendors requested more space this year,” said Davis. “With the added space we expect to see a healthy increase in the number of products offered.”
Staffing shortages have made executing the complex aggregation program challenging; individuals looking to have a contactless market experience are encouraged, at least for the time being, to order through the What’s Good App and arrange for home delivery.
Donuts will be available for sale inside the market and will also be accessible from the alley for those hoping to pick up sweet treats without entering the market. Musicians will perform on the lawn in front of Pilgrim Church to entertain market goers.
New market manager, Kimball Ingram, attended the May 12 Farmers Market Commission Meeting and introduced himself publicly for the first time. He and his family recently moved to Oak Park from Florida and he brings a wealth of experience in restaurant, bar and event management to the position.
“Kimball has been a great addition to staff,” said Davis. “He brings a very business focused approach to the farmers market. He is a good operational manager who understands this is a long-standing community event.”
The Oak Park Farmers Market will be open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays from May 22 through Oct. 30. Masks required.