Farmers Market Series: Oak Park Farmers Market turns 40

Farmers Market Series: Oak Park Farmers Market turns 40
Market goers enjoy coffee, donuts and music before making their purchases. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Today, Show Me Chicago visits the Oak Park Farmers Market for the fourth installment in its Chicago Farmers Market series.

When it comes to Farmers Markets, Oak Park’s Farmers Market is way ahead of the curve celebrating 40 years this season.

The Oak Park market is and always has been a growers market focusing on local and seasonal offerings—no jewelry, baskets or blankets to distract shoppers from the meat of the market.

Held in the parking lot of the architecturally significant Pilgrim Congregational Church on Lake St. in Oak Park, the market offers a festival-like atmosphere serving as a Saturday morning gathering spot–reminiscent of old-time marketplaces–for local residents and families. But that’s not all.

According to Oak Farmers Market spokesperson and board member, Courtney Greve Hack, it is also a destination market pulling in many people from surrounding areas.

And oh those donuts, their aroma fills the early morning air with anticipation. Freshly made donuts have been a market staple almost since its beginning 40 years ago.

The donuts are made fresh every Saturday morning when volunteer bakers from the church and participating organizations gather in the adjacent Pilgrim Church kitchen starting at 3 a.m.

Upwards of 40 something bakers turn out countless donuts to be ready for the market’s 7 a.m. opening when lines form almost immediately for the donuts and coffee, bargain priced at $.75–or by the box for $9 a dozen.

Donuts anyone?

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Anyone can play!

Photo: Village of Oak Park

Photo: Village of Oak Park

A ragtag gathering of musicians entertain the crowd with an eclectic collection of tunes from blue grass and jazz to original renditions. Although there are some regulars–anyone can join in and does from elementary school kids to area professionals and retired doctors.  All you need is an instrument and a sense of fun.


The market that started 40 years ago was the brainchild of Marge Gockel, who is still active with the market today.  It began with one farmer but had grown to nine by the end of that first season. It now has 28 vendors offering a mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, bedding plants, honey, cheese, frozen meat, bread and baked goods.

The vendors, in addition to those highlighted below, include: Smitts Organics, Sandhill Organics, Wetstein Organic Farm, Dennanne Farms, Barry’s Berries, Petals Farm, Herbally Yours, Nichols Farm and Orchard, Heartland Farm, Tree of Life, Walt Skibbe Farm, North Wichert Farms, River Valley Ranch, La Provence Baking, Johanson’s Apple World, Genesis Growers, Three Queens,Tomato Mountain Farm, Hardin Farm, Ellis Family Farm, Nordic Creamery, Breadman Baking Co., Geneva Lakes Produce, Iron Creek and R. Smits & Sons “The Farm.”


Nick Stover of Stover’s and Sons talks honey. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Pictured above is Nick Stover, a 5th generation farmer and popular farmers market vendor. His booth, K.V. Stover’s and Sons, offers a variety of honeys along with a healthy crop of veggies pollinated by all those honey bees.

Tree of Life.

Tree of Life vendor Marc Millitzer. Photo: Village of Oak Park

Tree of Life vendor Marc Millitzer. Photo: Village of Oak Park

Tree of Life is a certified organic farm specializing in mushrooms along with a wide variety of produce including their very popular Russian Kale, celery and black radishes. Visitors can sign up for a weekly CSA box of fruits and vegetables or just select what they want from the stand.

Behind the Cheddar Curtain.

Brunkow Cheese is generous with their samples. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer.

Brunkow Cheese is generous with their samples. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer.

Brunkow Cheese, artisinal cheesemakers since 1899, out of Southwestern, Darlington, Wisconsin make over 50 varieties of cheese–by hand in small batches. Popular farmers market offerings include: Brun-uusto, a Wisconsin-made ‘Bread Cheese’ and their cheese spreads, pictured here. Try the sharp cheddar (my favorite) or blue cheese.

Brunkow Cheese can be found around town at local grocery stores, other farmers markets and at this years’s Lollapalooza where they will be bringing their “Queijio de Coalho Brazilian-style Grilled Cheese on a Stick.”

Corn roast.

The market's annual corn roast. Photo: Village of Oak Park

The market’s annual corn roast. Photo: Village of Oak Park

There’s always some kind of special event happening at the market–from storytellers and costumed events to free freshly roasted corn (August) and stone soup at the final market of the season which this year will fall on Halloween.

Beyond the vendors…

Children enjoying a story from a professional storyteller at the market. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Children enjoying a story from a professional storyteller at the market. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Molly McDonough Carson, chair of the Oak Park Farmers’ Market Commission, embellished on the market’s new children’s programming explaining that the market has been doing more outreach this year to restaurants and local businesses to develop partnerships to support activities and events throughout the season including with the Oak Park Public Library, who has embedded a librarian with the commission to serve as a research and information resource.

Market information…

oakparkfmsunflowerThe Oak Park Farmers Market is held in the Pilgrim Church Parking lot at 460 Lake St., just one block west of Ridgeland Avenue. Market hours are 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. every Saturday from May 23 through Oct. 31, 2015.

Most of the nearby streets offer parking during market hours. Parking also is available in the Oak Park and River Forest High School High School garage just west of the market.

Parking in the garage is free to market patrons until 1 p.m.

Around town…

If you’re coming from outside the village, you may want to check out some of Oak Park’s many attractions. The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio along with his famous Unity Temple and many private homes are located in the Oak Park and River Forest area. A variety of walking, biking and bus tours are available–both guided and self-directed.

The Ernest Hemingway home and museum are located in Oak Park where the author was born and schooled. The Village offers various Hemingway related events including lectures and a yearly birthday bash. On July 18, three days before what would have been “Papa’s” 116 birthday, a Hemingway celebration will step off at 8 a.m. with a Hemingway 8K “run with the bulls.” That evening a celebration will take place at the Hemingway Birthplace Home, 339 N. Oak Park Avenue, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The very Victorian house party will feature Historical cocktails by Papa’s Pilar Rum, elegant bites, and thoroughly modern jazz music.

In addition to renown residents, Wright and Hemingway, the Oak Park and River Forest areas were also home to some of history’s most notorious gangsters including: Tony Accardo, Paul Ricca, Sam Giancana, “Tough Tony” Capezio, and “Machine Gun Jack” McGurn. Want to learn more? Check out John Binder, Mob historian and author of The Chicago Outfit, There Goes the Neighbor Hood tours. The tour visits the exterior of 15 area houses with commentary by the very knowledgeable Binder.

The Farmers Market Series…

First in series, Beyond the berries.

Second in series, This Little Piggy Went to Wilmette.

Third in series, Inside Chicago’s Green Market.

Subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email

If you would like to keep in touch with what’s happening in Chicago, like us on Facebook or subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email. To subscribe, type your email address in the box below and click the “create subscription” button. Our list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Leave a comment

  • Advertisement:
  • Advertisement:
  • ChicagoNow is full of win

    Welcome to ChicagoNow.

    Meet our bloggers,
    post comments, or
    pitch your blog idea.

  • Meet The Blogger

    Carole Kuhrt Brewer

    Arts, entertainment and dining journalist..

  • Follow me on Twitter.

  • Recent posts

  • Categories

  • Advertisement: