Tag Archives: vendors

Zucchini from the Garden

Long View: You Don’t Have to Be an Expert Gardener for Homegrown Taste

A few years ago, I moved into a house that could support a backyard vegetable garden. I decided to give it a shot. After all, I had watched many how-to shows on PBS for resource material, and all four of my grandparents were farmers. I cleared out a sizable space and then went to buy the plants.

Most of you know that eight zucchini plants are more than enough for a small town, not to mention a backyard plot. I over-bought cherry tomato plants, too. They got away from me early in the game.

The bugs were another challenge. I guess I never noticed them before, but they sure noticed my tender, young plants and considered them a fresh buffet planted just for them. I voiced my frustration to my neighbor, and she said, “Why don’t you just go to Urbana’s Market at the Square? It’s right next to your Health Alliance home office. How could you not know about it?”

Urbana’s farmers market began in 1979 and has grown considerably since its inception. Thousands of visitors attend it every Saturday morning from early May until early November. Fresh produce is just one of the attractions. Per its website, it also features a variety of other products—from “meat and dairy products, prepared foods, plants, and flowers to jewelry, pottery, wood workings, candles, body care products, garden décor, clothing, and more!” Whew.

I especially like being able to talk to the producers face to face. Almost all of them are quick with a story or a smile, and they remember their regulars. One producer puts back a box of new potatoes if I get to the market a little later than usual. She doesn’t make a big deal about it, and neither do I.

There are always some nice opportunities for socializing. I see lots of people I know, and my visit always takes longer than I expected. Folks just seem to be in a good mood, so why not enjoy it?

You may have a similar resource in your community. You can search on the Illinois Department of Agriculture website. People new to our community and many mature family members make good shopping companions. I think I have found a great way to support our local economy and purchase products that were grown or created in our area. The produce is spectacular. Funny thing though, in all these years, I can’t remember buying a single zucchini.

Fresh Fiddlehead Ferns at Your Farmers Market

Making the Most of a Farmers Market

There are lots of reasons to get out to your local farmers market, but going to a farmers market for the first time is very different than going to the supermarket. We can help make sure it goes smoothly with these tips from a farmers market veteran:

1. Prepare.

  • Illinois has a Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program that gives you a free booklet of checks that you can use at local markets. Check it out on the Illinois Department on Aging’s site for details and participating counties and markets .
  • Many vendors only take cash (and some take SNAP and WIC benefits). Some booths only take small bills, 20s and smaller.
  • Many vendors don’t offer bags, so it’s a good idea to bring a few cloth ones you can use.
  • Most markets don’t allow dogs, so leave them at home.
  • Have an idea of what is in stock at that time of year, so you know what to expect. Use this map to find out what’s in season where you live.

2. Check the info booth first. If your market has an info booth, check there before you start shopping. The people working can let you know if there are any special things going on that day, like cooking demos.

Certain markets, like the new Champaign Farmers’ Market downtown, have special deals for SNAP users, so it’s always good to check with the info booth. At their market, they will double up to $20 of benefits per person while funds last when you bring your Link card to the market booth!

3. Go early or go late. If you go early, you will have first pick of the freshest and largest selection. If you go late, some farmers will offer discounts to clear out their stock before heading home.

4. Take a lap. Unless you know your market really well, don’t just buy the first things you see. By walking a lap through the market first, you can get the lay of the land, compare prices and selection, and taste samples.

5. Talk to the farmers. The farmers can answer questions about how the food was grown and harvested, talk about why their produce is or is not organic, offer recipes, give info about something you’ve never tasted, or recommend their favorites.

6. Be mindful. It’s considered rude to squeeze stone fruits, like peaches, plums, or tomatoes, because it can bruise them. And it’s considered rude to open husks of corn before buying them, which can actually make them less sweet. Also, look for whole produce, meaning veggies like carrots and beets with their green tops still whole. These will stay fresh longer, and you can make things like pesto sauces with the greens.

7. Take a risk. Sometimes you find things that are new, different, or even strange at the farmer’s market. This is the perfect opportunity to try something new because the farmers can usually give you advice on how best to use it.

8. Bring a friend or the family. Grocery shopping, unlike the farmers market, can feel like a chore. Take people with you to talk and walk with outside, and the farmer’s market instantly becomes a more fun activity. And you can always save money and split certain produce.

9. Keep it simple. When you’re cooking your food at home, go for simple recipes. Because you bought such fresh produce, you should let it shine. Put fresh wild strawberries over a salad or in a breakfast parfait instead of baking them into a cake. If you’re worried you won’t be able to use all of something you bought you can always freeze it and use the rest later. Use this guide from the FDA to make sure you’re storing and washing produce correctly.

10. Find the right market. Many areas have more than one farmers market within driving distance. If you can, test them all. Large farmer’s markets have a lot of energy, selection, and sometimes even dining options, but smaller markets often have good deals. Find the one that works best for you.

Find farmer’s markets near you. Learn more about which ones take SNAP and WIC, or check out this list of all the farmer’s markets that take Illinois Link Benefits.

Up Next:

Do you really understand what you’re getting when you buy organic? We break it down in Organic 101.

And make sure you’re cleaning your fresh fruits and veggies the right way to keep your family safe.

Washington Beauty

Wowed by Washington: Illinois Native Trades Cornfields for Orchards

Emily Beach, a Health Alliance employee in the Communications Department, visited Washington to learn more about the members we serve and what it’s like to live in North Central Washington.

I was overjoyed at the chance to visit North Central Washington and learn more about the area and the Health Alliance Medicare members we serve.

I had been to the Olympic Peninsula, but knew the other side of the mountain held experiences untapped. My 3-day tour featured a first-time health fair, tours of everything from hockey rinks to senior centers, and a run along the Columbia River.

It was important for me to visit Washington because I knew the population was as diverse as the geography. Health care and coverage isn’t one-size-fits-all, and it’s so important for us to know our members. My goal wasn’t just to see the beautiful sights, but to see what is important to the people living in North Central Washington.

And my goal now that I’m back in Illinois is to translate those hopes, joys and lessons into our communications with Health Alliance Medicare members to support our employees who live and work there, too.

My first day in Washington was cut short. Travel woes struck me and my travel partner, Ericka Williams, who leads the Health Alliance Medicare sales team. A couple flight delays and a missed connection put us in Wenatchee after midnight. The next morning, with the help of some coffee, we headed to the Wenatchee YMCA for the first local National Senior Health & Fitness Day event.

We were both thrilled with how well the Health Alliance Medicare event came together. More than 100 visitors tried new fitness classes, got a health screening and talked with a variety of vendors. Shannon Sims, our community liaison, worked so hard to make the event a success. And we couldn’t have done it without the help of the Wenatchee YMCA.

SS Class

Event participants enjoy a SilverSneakers class at the Wenatchee YMCA.

Emily and Shannon

Shannon and I representing Health Alliance Medicare at the first local National Senior Health and Fitness Day.

HA Booth

 

After the event, we walked to McGlinn’s for lunch. I tried the famous beer bread and enjoyed a white garlic pizza. The pub was inviting and fun, and the food delicious! We were also excited to hear our waitress was a Health Alliance Medicare member. I love hearing what our members have to say about how much they like their plans from us. I’m glad she spoke up on seeing our Health Alliance shirts and badges!

McGlinn's

 

Shannon was the “hostess with the mostess” for the whole trip.

Her passion for the community is truly infectious. She inspired me to kick my jet lag after lunch and head over to Quincy. I loved seeing the orchards along the way. Shannon explained how to tell the difference between cherry and apple orchards and pointed out the signs labeling the different types of apples. I was also surprised at how quickly the landscape changed from the desert cliffs in Wenatchee to the fields of Grant County.

And there were tumbleweeds! My previous trip did not prepare me for that.

After our drive through Grant County, Shannon got me back to Wenatchee, where Ericka and I grabbed some grub at Pybus Public Market. Public markets are not common in Illinois, and I loved the fresh air and atmosphere. I truly think spaces like that bring communities together. We ate at South, where I enjoyed a shrimp burrito with a kick!

Pybus

I loved visiting Pybus Public Market. The open space with local roots is perfect for building community.

Though fatigue was definitely knocking, I knew I had to squeeze in a run on the Loop Trail along the Columbia River. I didn’t brave the full 13 miles, but I enjoyed a nice three-mile jog and sunset on the river. What a beautiful place!

Columbia

How could I not enjoy a run with a view like this?!

This was just day one! Check back early next week for more stories from my trip!

Save

Save