The first downtown farmers market in Evanston, back in 1975, was rainy, according to farmer Roy Elko, one of seven farmers in attendance at that premier event. Roy is still a vendor, forty years later.
Harriet Friedlander, one of the Evanstonians who persuaded the city to inaugurate the downtown market, remembers that day vividly. “It was a mad success,” she recalled at the 2011 Harvest Celebration.
What’s a Harvest Celebration?
For the past several years, Friends of Evanston Farmers Markets and Nell Funk’s NWC Food Incubator have collaborated on the Harvest Celebration; fine chefs are paired with market growers and ranchers to produce a night of great tastings for an appreciative gathering of market patrons. One attendee in 2013 summed the event up when he said, “It was like having the tasting menu in one of Chicago’s finest restaurants, but instead of $300 it was only $70!”
Back in 2011, the event honored the citizens who pushed for a local farmers market forty years earlier, and the growers who travelled up to 300 miles to take a chance on a new market for their produce. The Harvest Celebration has always been more than a great evening of food.
Making a Big Move
This year, the fortieth anniversary, the City of Evanston joined with Friends and Nell to bring the celebration right to the market. Chefs, vendors and ticket-buyers showed their support, ate some fabulous food and contributed financial support to the Friends’ mission of education and making fresh food available to everyone by matching funds for everyone who uses the SNAP (food stamps) program at the market. Also benefiting from the event proceeds is the city’s Spuds Club program for younger market-goers.
Moving the Harvest Celebration to a market day added lots of headaches for the team that put the event together, including concerns about the weather, the need for a big tent in case of rain, and the logistics about where to put a dozen chefs in a crowded market. In the end, it really was worth it.
This year’s celebration spread the spirit that created our market forty years ago to everyone who fills our aisles every week.
Folks who could never afford the night-long event were able to purchase individual tickets to sample one of the dozen small plates offered all around the market. Children who would never have lasted at the previous night-long tastings actually received free tickets to sample the remarkable food when their parents purchased their own.
A Meaningful Celebration
The 2015 Harvest Celebration honored the vendors who make this market a destination for visitors from all around Chicagoland. It showcased the remarkable cadre of chefs and restaurants that are unsparing of their time and talent when it comes to supporting the market. It celebrated the market itself, born in 1975 and midwifed by Evanstonians who wanted access to fresh, healthier food.
Finally, by happening at the market, the Harvest Celebration has evolved into an inspiration for the many youngster who got a chance to sample some remarkable food. We can only hope that these kids will support farmers and farmers markets as adults, and that they will pass the habit of sustainable food shopping to their own children. That really is something to celebrate, isn’t it?