After struggling to find a manager for the 47th season of Oak Park Farmers Market, village hall staff came up with a creative solution to fill the part time role. Since July 2021, Erica Helms has been the Sustainability Fellow with the village. In that part-time role Helms maintains the accuracy of Oak Park’s greenhouse gas inventory reporting among other things. Staff thought the market manager position would dovetail nicely with Helms’ current role and she has accepted the position.
“I think it is a good fit,” said Helms. “I work a village hall, but I have not had the opportunity to meet people in the community. I am excited to meet people at the market and make meaningful connections.”
Helms has a master’s degree in urban planning and policy from UIC and a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She also has 10 years of experience managing waste and recycling at music festivals and other large scale events as well as front-of-the-house restaurant experience. Additionally, Helms is passionate about urban agriculture, communication, and outreach.
Putting the two village roles together promotes Helms into a fulltime equivalent position and helps to create flexibility when it comes to managing the market. She will be able to budget her own time between the two roles allowing her to handle farmers market related tasks year-round ensuring there will be consistent momentum when planning the market season.
Helms was quick to point out the market is on track to return to the 2019 model “everyone knows and loves.” She is clear organizers will need to remain aware of Covid-19 numbers throughout season but has high hopes the pandemic will not impact the 2022 season.
The new manager said 18 vendors have confirmed their participation in the market with “several” applications pending expected approval. Helms anticipates welcoming 25 or 26 vendors this season including new newcomers Vangie’s Farm and Chao Farm which grow highly sought-after Asian produce items. Smits Farm will return with a robust collection of certified organic produce as well. The village is still seeking part-time assistant market managers and has extended the deadline for bake sale applications.
The Oak Park Farmers Market opens May 21 in the Pilgrim Church parking lot, 460 Lake St. The market is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday through Oct. 29.