Farmers Market different but still 'the happy place'

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

The Oak Park Farmers Market opened Saturday for its 45th season on a sunny day amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The market was heavily modified to ensure social distancing and Oak Park police presence helped exude a feeling of calm over the market in the wake of Chicago protests. 

The village happily welcomed more than 1,750 customers to Saturday's market. All 50 preorders made through the What's Good app were successfully aggregated and picked up by noon.

"The success of the first market was a huge team effort," say Oak Park Farmers Market Manager, Colleen McNichols. "It was a happy day for everyone."

The Department of Public Works worked diligently to physically set the modified market up for success. The swift completion of paving on the corner of Scoville and Lake Street and the building of handwashing stations were both instrumental in the success of opening day. Additionally, the department delivered barricades, placed cones and created signage for the market. 

"The village board, village manager, village staff and volunteers were all instrumental in the success of the first day of this year's re-imagined market," said Cam Davis, village staff liaison to the farmers market.

"Cam is a true professional and worked very hard to make sure we could continue the farmers market, with necessary safety measure in a pandemic," said Village Manager Cara Pavlicek. "What looked so easy only happened because of his leadership and tenacity to meet public expectations with the support of many village staff."

Staff and volunteers were enthusiastic and brought a positive energy to the market as they ushered attendees through the entry process. A quick-moving line formed at the corner of Scoville and Lake and extended to East Avenue; wait times hovered around 15 minutes.  Mask-clad guests were counted on their way in and out of the market, leaving plenty of room for customers to roam. 

"It was such an enjoyable experience," said Penelope Ferringno, a market goer and Oak Park resident. "I am not kidding I almost prefer this new layout."

Customers moved in one direction through the no-touch market and pedestrian traffic clogged slightly at the corner of Scoville and South Boulevard. Village staff are considering tweaking vendor placements on South Boulevard to facilitate better flow through the market.

"Safety was our main goal and residents seemed happy about the availability of so much great fresh food," said Davis.

Sarah Thomas, manager of the Brookfield Farmers Market set to open June 6, attended the Oak Park Farmers Market for the first-time last weekend. 

"I just got off of a Zoom meeting with my team discussing the success of the Oak Park market and what things we need to have in place for next week," said Thomas. "They did an excellent job and I learned a great deal from them."

McNichols said village staff listened to all suggestions and feedback offered at the information tent on opening day. There is hope assistance can be offered to seniors looking to traverse the market in-person in the future. Only one unhappy young customer was discovered crying simply because Pilgrim Church had run out of donuts.

"This community never gives up on the market," said McNichols. "We have maintained the spirit of this 45-year-old market. It is still Oak Park's happy place."

Contact:
Email: melissa@oakparkeats.com

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