Urbana’s Market at the Square is a Saturday must. Whether you are a student, a visitor or a local, I highly recommend going to the Farmer's Market at least once in your time in C-U (you probably won’t be able to resist going every week after that).
Every Saturday from May until November, there is a Farmer’s Market in the parking lot of Lincoln Square Mall. From 7 a.m. until noon, you can buy locally grown or made foods such as produce, bread, cheese, jam and eggs. After my first time at the market, I discovered the organic peppers and Amish-made bread weren’t the only things to rave about.
1. The Produce
Easily the most obvious, positive aspect of any Farmer’s Market is the organic, locally grown produce. Who doesn’t love buying fresh tomatoes that were brought from just a few miles away?
There is a long list of produce farmers that attend the Market. Some even sell fresh eggs and potted plants. They come from all of the surrounding areas and provide a wide range of produce including difficult to find items such as banana peppers and unique strains of kale.
Options also vary based on the season, which ensures you are getting fresh, in-season foods, unlike the grocery store where you can pretty much buy anything whenever. For instance, in the fall, there are a wide range of squash that you probably didn't even know existed.
2. The Plants
It’s not all food at the Farmer’s Market. There are many local florists present that sell hanging baskets, potted succulents and bouquets of flowers. Buying flowers and plants from places like this are often more reliable than big-name chain stores because you know they were raised with care.
Also, the vendors will tell you how to take care of your plant and help you later on if need be. For instance, if you buy a plant in May and it’s not doing so hot come June, you can go back and ask the same person what’s wrong. Good luck finding a supermarket employee that can do that.
3. The People
Never have I been grocery shopping at a more friendly place than the Farmer’s Market. The vendors not only want to help you find what you need, but they want to inform you on where the food came from, what their farm is like and so on.
Besides just the produce vendors, the attitude of all those working at the Farmer’s Market is genuinely upbeat. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, the vendors will gladly tell you their story and about their products.
4. The Locality
The food itself being local is hugely beneficial. Local food is better for the environment because it requires less transportation, it is healthier because it loses less nutrients because it doesn’t take as long to get from the farm to you and it supports local farmers.
Not only is your food coming from nearby, but there are always local bands playing at the market and local organizations and activism groups spreading education and awareness. Organizations like AWARE, The Urbana Public Arts Program and Champaign County Democrats can often be found at the Market.
5. The “Ugly" Food
You may have heard of “ugly" food before and been really confused. This is essentially a term for food that doesn’t look like the norm—such as asparagus that isn’t at least 80 percent green. Surprise: just like people, fruits and vegetables come in all shapes and sizes.
Grocery stores typically don’t sell these “ugly” foods, but that has been changing recently in an effort to reduce food waste. Because American stores have been the slowest to jump on the "ugly" food bandwagon, you’re most likely to find these misshapen veggies at the Farmer’s Market.
Most of the vendors at the Farmer’s Market will have “reject” or “ugly” food for sale. These produce options often include smaller-than-normal potatoes, spotty tomatoes or discolored peppers. They may not look like store-bought veggies, but they essentially taste the same and buying them reduces the amount of food thrown out by shops and farmers.
6. The Thing You Can't Get Anywhere Else
Amish-made peanut butter with marshmallow cream? Strawberry-rhubarb jam? Jalapeño jelly? Goat milk gelato? Mocha cheese? These are things that I either have never heard of before or can rarely ever find in a grocery store.
Fortunately, at the Farmer’s Market there are all the weird foods you never knew you were looking for, but now cannot live without. If you’re unsure whether these strange foods will suit you, don’t be afraid to ask. The vendors will be more than happy to give you a suggestion, explain the food to you or even give you a taste-test (every college student’s dream).
7. The Snacks
Most importantly, if you are going to wake up early on a Saturday and head to the Farmer’s Market, be sure to not eat before you go. There will be plenty there to satisfy your morning munchies.
Most of the Champaign-Urbana food trucks are present at the Urbana Farmer’s Market and ready to serve breakfast, lunch or a snack. You can also find freshly baked pastries, kettle corn, Amish breads, fudge, cookies and fresh fruit to snack on while you wander up and down the Market’s aisles.
Arguably the best part of going to the Farmer’s Market is eating your way through it.
Urbana's Market at the Square closes come November and is only open Saturday's, but if you happen to miss out, the Urbana Co-Op sells a lot of their products everyday of the week and year round.
C-U is lucky to have a Farmer's Market as expansive as this one. Going is definitely worth it and everyone should take advantage of it at least once.