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  By: Richard C. Ross

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Having family on the west coast is at once both a blessing and a curse. The curse is the distance factor and the oftentimes painful process of connecting for the holidays or any other time for that matter. The blessing part is actually plural, since there are except for the concern about earthquakes (their concern in coming here is tornadoes and snowstorms) numerous delights to be found there. Having lived there, one of my favorite things was the availability of fresh seafood and fresh vegetables. Granted, we can get those things here at the local supermarkets and a few specialty stores and they are fairly good, but they have to be shipped here from somewhere else, be it South America or somewhere else even California. That takes time. And I dont care what you say, they are never quite as good and certainly not as fresh as right out of the garden or right out of the ocean.

I for one will not trade the Midwest's changing seasons for anything, but I do miss the fresh seafood and fresh vegetables. In northern California, the Farmers Markets available on a weekly basis for much of the year have always been a favorite place for me to visit. So I always thought I had to suffer through the winter (and most of the summer), until my tiny garden started to produce some long-awaited bounty. For those of us who were previously ignorant (in a scientific sense, meaning without knowledge), we can now rejoice. If you were not aware of the local Farmers Markets available, raise your hands please. Im just kidding of course. You dont need to admit that you didnt know. But whether you didnt know or did know and havent yet paid a visit, you should definitely plan a trip before time and the season once again run away from Old Man Winter.

I will shamelessly admit that I was unaware of this resource until this past weekend, when I discovered three of the many local markets available on a weekly basis that are all open to the public from roughly June through October. Each is available on a different day, so it is easy to attend one or more, depending on the scheduling problems that you may encounter. On Friday, I stopped to check the Market in St. Charles. Located adjacent to the Methodist Church on the corner of Main Street (Route 64) and 4th Avenue, the Market was a smallish assembly of booths that occupied the majority of both sides of the street. But as they say size does not matter. Here can be found a fine collection of freshly baked goods, cheeses, coffees, potted and cut flowers, vegetables, fruits, poultry, meat, eggs and crafts. The most important thing that I observed was that almost all of the signs on the vendors booths indicated that the products were herbicide and pesticide free, hormone free and organically grown. Many of the items were home grown right here in Kane County. Now that I like! This market is open from 7:00am until 1:00pm every Friday from June through October. 

Saturday morning, I decided to check the Farmers Market in Batavia and do a bit of comparison. This Market is open from June through October as well; the times were a bit shorter: from 8:00am until noon. Located on north Water Street (just east of the Library building), the Market was similar to the one in St. Charles, but had fewer vendors and items available (at least on the day that I visited). I did notice that there were a few of the same vendors that I saw in St. Charles and a few different ones as well. Perhaps the number of vendors in Batavia increases with the passing of summer as more fruits and vegetables ripen on local farms.

Since I had visited the other two Markets, I had decided that Sunday morning would necessarily involve a short trip to Geneva to see what the French Market there had to offer (why the difference in name, I am unsure, but I heard at least one vendor speaking French on a cell phone...). The Market in Geneva is located in the large parking lot just north of the Metra train station and is open from 9:00am until 2:00pm from June through October.  Of course this had to be the absolutely hottest day of the season so far - it was 940 at 10:00am - but away we went.  Although the power seemed to be down on the east side of Third Street, the vendors in the Market on the west side seemed to have it and were busily going about their work.  Everyone by the way, even those just standing in one place, seemed to be perspiring profusely.  Neither did anyone appear to be bothered by the heat.

Again there were a few of the same vendors that I had seen earlier in the weekend, but many were totally different.  The Market in Geneva was about three times the size (30 or so vendors) of the one in Batavia and not quite twice the size of the St. Charles venue.  Geneva seemed to be a bit more upscale, offering clothes items and more jewelry, as well as paintings and other artifacts, table linens, placemats and sauces.  There were lots of fresh produce (onions, potatoes, peppers, potatoes, etc) and there seemed to be more flower varieties.  Something that I found to be noticeably absent from the other two Markets were samples.  While it may not be necessary and is probably a matter of preference - marketing-wise - I like the idea of being able to sample something prior to making a purchase, especially if the item is food!  Everything looked very fresh, the vendors were all very nice (in spite of the weather.. although it was still early in the morning) and we decided to sample a few items and purchase a few as well.  We sampled some excellent peaches from Michigan (huge blueberries and other fresh fruit was there as well), some dipping sauces and bread and purchased some egg rolls to munch on while we were there.  

I purchased some Black Angus steaks, cheese, green beans and cherries from the St. Charles Market, sweet corn, peaches and beets from the Batavia market and long stem fresh roses (only $1 per stem!), French bread baguettes, croissants and special spices to make a homemade dipping sauce from the Geneva Market. The steak (from Schramers Black Angus farm in Maple Park) was tender and flavorful and one of the best I have had. The cherries (from Michigan) were some of the sweetest and juiciest, the beans (locally grown) some of the most tender and flavorful, the corn (also locally grown) was to die for, the peaches (from Michigan) plump and tasty, the bread (from Provence Imports in Wood Dale) fresh and crusty In fact, everything was incredibly good. I will say that a few of the prices were a tad higher than I had expected. But they weren't outrageous, and it was difficult to keep from making larger purchases - I tried to buy only what I needed at the time.  After all, isn't that why one visits such a Market?

The bottom line is this:  These markets are fun to attend, are a great idea and a great source of fresh food and other items, and certainly offer an excellent reason to get out and about and enjoy some more of what the Fox Valley has to offer. 

 

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