Second in a series of reports on Oak Park’s Farmers Market:

‘Where are the strawberries and corn?” a Farmers Market shopper asked recently. And the answer to that question can be found in the requirements that the farmer vendors agree to.

Colleen McNichols, the market manager, explained that Oak Park Farmers Market is a “Producer Only Market — with the exception of bread vendors, all products sold at the market must be grown or raised by that vendor and must be grown or raised within the five-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. Purchasing from a wholesaler and reselling is not allowed under any circumstances.”

Did you know that because one farmer didn’t follow the Producer-Only guidelines, there was national publicity, a court case and lots of drama? It was called the “cauliflower caper” and happened in 1986 when 12-inch yellow cauliflowers were sold at a June Farmers Market. Cauliflower is usually a cool weather crop and harvested in the fall. Since the produce didn’t appear to be grown locally, officials inspected the farm and couldn’t find the produce growing there. Hearings took place before the Oak Park Farmers Market Commission. When the farmer was barred from the market, he sued the village of Oak Park, and the case went to court. Though the judge ruled against the farmer, because of appeals, the case was eventually settled out of court. This story was covered by local and national media, including Channel 7, the Chicago Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal.

 To answer the shopper’s question about corn and strawberries, usually corn is not ready until at least mid-July, but shoppers can buy strawberries now. You may wonder how Midwestern strawberries can be ripe now. While most traditional strawberries are not usually ripe until later in the season, a number of vendors are selling early strawberries. Brad Baser, a second-generation Barry’s Berries farmer, explained that early strawberries are a newer way of growing strawberries. They are grown between layers of plastic with a drip line for water. The plastic is like a greenhouse and the strawberries grow throughout the winter.

After the risk of frost is over, the top layer of plastic is removed, and the strawberries ripen. Chad Nichols, of Nichols Farms, explained that they grow their June-bearing strawberries between layers of straw in the cold weather.

My family recently conducted a taste test of store-bought strawberries and Oak Park Farmers Market strawberries and it was unanimously decided that the local Farmers Market strawberries were superior.

The Oak Park Farmers Market is open through October 28 at the Pilgrim Church parking lot, 460 Lake St., one block west of Ridgeland Avenue in Oak Park, each Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

 Happy local produce shopping!

Joy Aaronson is an Oak Park resident, regular Oak Park Farmers Market shopper, and volunteer at the market. Joy has contributed to Chicago Parent and written the Kids’ World column for the former Logan Square Free Press.

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