The 2019 outdoor farmers’ market season is officially in swing. We’re really lucky in C-U to have two markets: one in Champaign on Tuesday evenings and one in Urbana on Saturday mornings. The Land Connection’s Tuesday Champaign market is smaller and younger: this year is only its fifth. By contrast, the Urbana Saturday market turns 40 this year.

If you’re new to Smile Politely, this column will run monthly and highlight some of the monthly programming at each market, as well as some items and vendors you should check out.

The Land Connection organizes the Downtown Champaign Tuesday market, which takes place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.  every Tuesday today through October 29th. It’s located in the southern half of the parking lot at Neil and Hill/Washington. If you’re parking in that lot, please use caution as there are more people than usual walking around. In addition to produce vendors, you can often find baked goods from vendors like Berries & Flour or Central Illinois Bakehouse, as well as flowers and honey, and the occasional meat or fish vendor. There is always at least one food truck on site, and you might even find The Pop Stop on nice days.

I like the Champaign market because it’s really nice to have an opportunity to shop for local produce during the week, to re-up on stuff you used up or missed at the Saturday market. It’s also a really nice casual date night opportunity. I’ve met friends at the market and then grabbed a drink downtown afterward, or stopped by the food truck for dinner with my spouse.

Each year The Land Connection finds new programs and ways for patrons to engage with the market. There are kids programs, chef demos, opportunities to taste and sample produce, and free recipe ideas. There are also buskers. At the end of the season, in October, there’s even a doggie costume contest. That’s one big difference between the Champaign and Urbana markets: Champaign allows leashed dogs (and, presumably, if you’re into it, cats).

The Land Connection Tuesday market kicks off today, May 14th at 3:30 p.m.

Urbana’s Market at the Square is every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon in the southeast parking lot at Lincoln Square Mall, at the corner of Illinois and Vine. This market turns 40 this year, and even with such a long history, there are new programs and vendors each summer. There are several rows of vendors selling produce, baked goods, meat, honey, and crafted items like pillows, purses, etched glasses, wood sculptures, and flowers. There’s an entire row of food trucks: Cracked is a regular, as well as Sidney Dairy Barn, Empanadas House, Dragon Fire Pizza, and Piato. You can also get sweets from Pandamonium Doughnuts, Ye Olde Donut Shoppe, or Central Illinois Bakehouse. There are a whole massive ton of vendors at this market; it’ll take you a few Saturdays to check them all out. When you’re exploring, don’t forget to check out the community corridor across from the food trucks; these are local organizations tabling to share information and engage with fellow community members.

This time of year, you can usually find plants for sale, so you can grow your own stuff. About six or so years ago I came home from the market with a tiny little fig tree, and now it’s a fairly large fig tree that gives me a handful of figs every year. This week, I’m going to look out for the Dwarf Tomato Project seedlings and heirlooms. 

Urbana’s Market at the Square gets pretty busy, so if you’re looking to avoid crowds and get your pick of produce, arrive early. The lines are shorter, it isn’t as hot and crowded, and you’ll get first pick of some of the more scarce items like berries and other small fruits.

Children’s programming at Urbana’s Market at the Square is quite robust: each month the kids can do Art at the Market, Sprouts at the Market, Read at the Market. All of these programs are free, and rotate weekly. The busker culture at this market is quite robust and lively, and you can often find small children (and a handful of adults) getting their wiggle on in front of the performers. It’s quite charming, if you like children.

As I mentioned before, Urbana’s Market at the Square does not permit leashed or unleashed animals (except service animals, of course). Each Saturday I see someone with their dog, and the 90-year-old curmudgeon in me wants to shake my finger at them and tell them they are breaking the rules. So, please, leave your creatures at home.

Both markets accept SNAP benefits, and incentivize the use of these benefits by matching up to $20. This week at the Tuesday Market, for instance, you can triple your LINK benefits. For the specifics of these benefits at each market, visit The Land Connection’s website for the Tuesday market or Urbana’s Market at the Square’s website for the Saturday market. 

This month, check out the markets for asparagus, strawberries, and leafy greens.

The Land Connection Champaign Farmers’ Market

The Champaign Market is in its 5th year, and runs every Tuesday from May 14th to October 29th from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., rain or shine. It’s located in the parking lot at Neil and Washington in Downtown Champaign.

Forms of Payment: Vendors take mostly cash, but some do take credit. If you run out of cash, there are ATMs close by in the Busey building on University, or at the PNC location on Main and Walnut.

SNAP/LINK: All eligible vendors accept SNAP benefits through the LINK token program. Please visit The Land Connection website for specifics.

Parking: Metered parking is available in parking lot M off of Neil Street, or in the Hill Street Parking Deck.

Pets: Leashed dogs are welcome.

Social Media: Follow The Land Connection on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or check the website for more information.

Urbana’s Market at the Square Info

The Urbana Market has been in continuous operation since 1979. The market runs from May 4th to October 26th, each Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine. It’s located at the corner of Illinois and Vine in Urbana.

Forms of payment: All vendors accept cash, and a few may take checks. Many accept credit. If you run out of cash at the Market, there is an ATM in the Lincoln Square Mall.

SNAP/LINK: Vendors selling LINK-eligible foods accept LINK tokens. Please visit Urbana’s Market at the Square website for specifics, or the information tent on site. 

Parking: Free parking is available in the parking lots surrounding Lincoln Square Mall and the lot south of Illinois Street. Bike parking is also available at the entrances to the mall and at the bike corral area past the entrance to the Market off of Illinois.

Pets: No pets allowed. Please respect the market’s rules and leave Fido at home.

Social Media: You can follow the Market on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sign up for weekly Market emails here.

Photos by Jessica Hammie