There’s a new kid on the block in the central Illinois farmers market scene.
Peoria Heights will resurrect its farmers market after an absence of several years, with 20-30 vendors setting up shop on the historic Pabst Brewery grounds, 4541 N. Prospect Road, starting on Thursday, May 26, and continuing every Thursday thereafter – 19 Thursdays in all — through Sept. 29.
The markets will run between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and feature a variety of growers, makers, food and drink proprietors, live music, the Heights pedal bus, etc. There will be an emphasis on local involvement from those small businesses that have brick-and-mortar operations nearby and so distinguish the Heights as a regional destination.
Spaces also will be reserved for local and area not-for-profits looking to bring attention and resources to their causes, and the market will provide opportunities to donate to the Heights’ two food pantries at St. Thomas Catholic Church and Peoria Heights Congregational Church, as well as local school service organizations.
Once a month, the markets will sport a theme. There will be a Meet Your Heroes Thursday featuring first responders, for example. Another market may showcase school mascots. Organizers also would like to take advantage of the space the site offers with, say, a disc golf table that allows visitors to try out its wares.
The dynamic duo behind the Heights market consists of real estate broker Julie Bielfeldt and Samantha Hutchison, the owner of Bear’s Bites, a dog and cat food operation. They faced multiple challenges in launching.
First, it had been seven years since the Heights had last hosted a market, that one at Heritage Square. “I’m like, ‘It’s time. Let’s bring it back,’” said Bielfeldt. But did the interest and energy exist among others to do that? Village leadership was enthusiastic about the idea, offered its full cooperation, and effectively answered the question.
Second, they needed a location. Bielfeldt believed the “perfect” spot was the parking lot at the Pabst facility. She made her pitch and found a receptive audience in KDB Group CEO Greg Birkland, the building’s owner, who made the property available.
Finally, they didn’t want to compete with other farmers markets, so they called upon other local organizers to see if conflicts could be avoided.
Junction City agreed to move its event to Tuesdays, with Keller Station on Wednesday, the Heights on Thursdays, and Peoria’s RiverFront Market on Saturdays.
“Now you can buy fresh, buy local throughout the entire week,” said Bielfeldt, who didn’t have to be sold on the value of that. She likened it to “a string of pearls.”
Indeed, when you factor in the distance most food travels before it ends up on a grocery store shelf and ultimately on a plate at home – it tends to be about 1,500 miles in the United States — the nutrition loss as a result, the supply chain snarls that have exacerbated all of that, it made Bielfeldt wonder why there aren’t more farmers markets.
“Living in the Midwest, we are so close to our food source,” she said. “We are sitting in the best spot in the country.”
Meanwhile, the opportunity to promote community, socialization and the outdoors made the whole thing a no-brainer, she and Hutchison said.
“There’s an intimacy to a farmers market,” said Bielfeldt. “It’s about relationships. Everybody’s got each other’s back. That’s community to me. The Heights has had its successes. We just want to build on that.
“Hopefully, people will stay and enjoy the Village. They’ll walk around and eat and shop … The Village is not franchise row. We are Mom & Pop shops. I want to be very respectful of what we have here.”
“That’s what it’s all about, supporting each other,” said Hutchison.
While a number of vendors already have signed on, the Heights is looking for high-quality, non-duplicative operations. “It’s more important to us to have local, homemade, handmade,” said Hutchison. The cost to reserve a full-season spot is $150, for a single market $10.
“No pun intended, there has been an organic nature to pulling this together. It has just been a pleasure,” added Bielfeldt. “There are some things that just seem right, and this is one of them.”
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of fresh food in central Illinois. Some vital stats on some of the other markets in the area:
- EAST PEORIA FARMERS MARKET
4 to 7 p.m. Fridays starting May 20 in the Levee District on the Pedestrian Promenade
- JUNCTION CITY FARMERS MARKET
3 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays starting May 24
- KELLER STATION FARMERS MARKET
4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays starting May 4
- MORTON FARMERS MARKET
3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays starting June 7 at Church Square, 225 E. Jefferson St.
- PEKIN FARMERS MARKET
3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays starting June 2 at the Pekin Park District’s Miller Center
- PEORIA FARMERS MARKET AT METRO CENTRE
8 a.m. until sold out Monday through Saturday starting May 1
- PEORIA RIVERFRONT MARKET
8 a.m. to noon Saturdays starting May 21
Mike Bailey is editor in
chief of Peoria Magazine.