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Farmers Market on 61st Street to Operate Through Winter

By Sam Cholke | November 8, 2013 9:01am
 The 61st Street Farmers Market will attempt to stay open all year for the first time this winter.
The 61st Street Farmers Market will attempt to stay open all year for the first time this winter.
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Experimental Station/Dan Burke

HYDE PARK — It’s already late in the year and the 61st Street Farmers Market is just going to go for it and stay open through the winter months.

The market moved indoors to Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave., but instead of halting the weekly produce sale in late December, it’s going to keep rolling with a market once a month until spring comes.

“Our vendors since last year have been asking for additional revenue and their customers had been pushing them,” said Dan Burke, the manager of the farmers market.

He said it’s a mistake to think there isn’t fresh local produce in the winter.

“You’ll be able to find a lot more than you’d expect to find in the Midwest,” Burke said.

According to Burke, farmers are able to sell potatoes, beets, apples and other stable crops late into the winter thanks to advances in produce storage. He said many of these crops actually get better in the winter. Apples continue to ripen and sweeten after they’re picked, and late season spinach, beets and carrots get sweetest just before the ground freezes, Burke said.

Burke said attendance dropped from about 1,000 people per week to 490 last weekend when the market moved indoors, but the market is still doing vastly better than when it started in 2008, when weekly attendance hovered around 150.

The 61st Street Farmers Market continues to be the most popular market in the state for LINK shoppers. The first to accept LINK cards, the market sold $12,000 in produce last year to LINK customers. LINK customers this year have already purchased $18,000 in produce — and for the 61st Street Farmers Market the season isn’t close to being over.

Burke said he thinks the market will easily top the list again this year for serving the most low-income customers in the state.

“When all is said and done, we’re going to double what we did last year,” Burke said.

The market has helped make fresh local produce available to those on a limited income, offering essentially half-off for LINK customers.

Burke said it was also just a good year for farmers, and that benefited customers.

“It was pretty phenomenal compared to last year with the drought,” Burke said. “We had so much bounty at the market compared to last year.”

Many farmers last year suffered from extreme weather that severely damaged fruit crops.

Burke said whether next year is good or bad, the 61st Street Farmers Market is hoping to balance out the fruit next year.

“We need a larger organic veggie grower,” Burke said.

As winter closes in, the market is now bursting with veggies as farmers from other city markets move down to the border of Hyde Park and Woodlawn as those outdoor markets close.

The 61st Street Farmers Market will run weekly on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Dec. 14. The market will then run once a month on the last Saturday of the month until May.