Food that residents buy from farmers markets this summer might not always come from farms in the town they're bought — and customers might notice businesses from outside of Illinois — but organizers in Lake Forest and Libertyville say they are focused on having local farmers and businesses featured in their farmers markets.
Officials said they want to offer local and fresh products to the residents who frequent them, as well as offer area businesses and entrepreneurs a chance to showcase their products and skills.
Having that "local" flavor is something those who patronize farmers markets want, say organizers and vendors alike.
"People want to support people they know," said Elaine Markeli, owner of Nana's Rum Cakes in Mundelein. She recently has hit the farmers market circuit to sell her cakes, and has found being from the area has given her an advantage. "They might not know me or my name, but they know my city."
Experts say farmers markets have grown exponentially in Illinois, especially in the Chicago area. According to Pat Stieren, executive director of the Illinois Farmers Market Association, the number of markets in the state has tripled from 97 in 1994 to more than 350 this year. The Chicago area alone is home to about 150 markets, Stieren said.
Al Scott, who manages the farmers market for the city of Libertyville, said of the almost 30 vendors there, 20 are from Cook and Lake counties. He said the market, which has been operating for more than 30 years, has continually brought back local vendors, which in turn brings local buyers.
"Our turnover every year is very, very small," he said. "We've got five vendors that have been with us for 33 years. People are used to going to those vendors year [after] year."
He added that out-of-state growers are required to bring fresh products with them, meaning anything sold must have been grown or produced directly by the sellers themselves.
Susan Kelsey, market manager for the Lake Forest Farmers Market, said the city has a 100-mile limit for vendors who travel to the market. Local businesses also get first priority, and any store owner looking to sell product from the city automatically has the vendor fee waived.
One of those local entrepreneurs is Lake Forest College student Sydney Fletcher, 22, who runs the school's student garden. Students grow a variety of produce and herbs, she said, and they usually sell out of products every Saturday.
"We grow everything right at the school," she said. "It's very popular here, we love being part of [the market.]"
Kelsey said of the 20 or so vendors, it is relatively split between local growers and those from outside the immediate area. But since the market is only three years old, she expects more local businesses will show up to sell.
"There are new faces almost every week," she said.
Both Kelsey and Scott agreed that while supporting local growers and entrepreneurs is at the top of their list, the market also offers fresh and affordable food options that keep people coming back.
When Libertyville resident Bill Hughes, 62, came to the Lake Forest Farmers Market on a recent hot Saturday afternoon, he knew at least one stop he had to make: the Ruleau Bros. Door County Whitefish stand.
Though it's not local — employee Rick Loomis said it's slightly less than three hours round-trip to get to Lake Forest from the company's Michigan headquarters — the fish are touted as being caught fresh every week in Green Bay, Wis.
"This stuff is awesome, because it was just caught the other day," Hughes said of the whitefish fillets.
On Saturday, it was the first place he stopped. Hughes also bought a smoked whitefish cheese spread he was itching to try.
"I think it's wonderful people from all over can come and sell their products here," he said. "You can't get it any fresher than this."
Tribune reporters John P. Huston and Alexandra Chachkevitch contributed to this report