WAUCONDA, Ill. – Lake County Farmers Markets are a growing boon for vendors struggling with the challenges of rising costs and labor shortages.
Markets continue to draw crowds this summer, with returning and new customers looking to buy local and enjoy the festive atmosphere that many markets provide.
“I think for ours personally here, I think they’re coming for the community of it all,” said Maria Weisbruch, executive director of the Wauconda Area Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the market. “It’s about seeing your friends and going out and getting good stuff. … It’s just a good fuzzy, warm feeling. That’s why people come to us.
Ranging in size from 24 to 32 vendors, the Wauconda Farmers Market takes place weekly from 4-7 p.m. Thursday through September 29 on Main Street from Mill Street to Village Hall.
Like markets scattered throughout Lake County – including those in Antioch, Mundelein, Gurnee, Grayslake, Fox Lake, Round Lake Beach and Libertyville – Wauconda Market offers fresh produce, meats, cheeses, breads , flowers and other products, as well as live music and entertainment.
Weisbruch has noticed challenges affecting vendors this summer, with last-minute cancellations due to a lack of workers.
“I feel for them,” she said. “They are so dedicated. Our sales people are so great. It’s just that they have trouble (finding) employees.
On the positive side, the market tends to have a steady stream of visitors, she said, and many return week after week.
Community-wide pushes to buy local and efforts like Grow Lake County — a website at growlakecounty.org created by the Lake County Community Foundation — seem to be paying off for many vendors at area markets. .
An interactive map in Grow Lake County displays farmers markets, as well as community-supported agricultural programs, farm stands, community gardens, restaurants that source local food, grocers that source food community, plant sales, agri-tourism, and pollination and beekeeping efforts in Lake County.
“Whether residents are looking to buy local food, grow their own, or get involved with local food groups and organizations, we view Grow Lake County as a one-stop resource,” said Maggie Morales, executive director of the Lake County Community Foundation. . “We look forward to maintaining this site for the community to support a more cohesive and coordinated local food system in Lake County.”
Amid the farming challenges, markets have been a bright spot, with visitors even generously tipping employees, said Theresa Harms, owner of Harms Farm and Garden Center of McHenry.
“They’re so happy we’re here,” she said.
Along with the Wauconda Market, Harms sets up shop at four other farmers’ markets in Lake and McHenry counties and sells produce from farm stands located at its McHenry location and the McHenry Outdoor Theater.
The re-entry will result in a loss of high school employee hours, she said. That, coupled with an expected rise in the cost of fertilizers and petroleum-based treatments, will likely make things even more difficult, she said.
“It’s very tough, but we’re hanging on,” Harms said. “Everything is labor intensive and we are losing employees.”
It raised employee wages to attract and retain workers, while at the same time it had to raise some prices slightly to meet rising costs.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen (in the future), but we’re doing our best,” said Harms, who has attended farmers’ markets for several decades.
Both old and new suppliers rely on marketplaces to attract customers.
New to the Wauconda Farmers Market this year, Golden Gills – a year-old mushroom house created in an industrial space in Wauconda – has garnered a fan base.
Owner Julie Mitchell Musgrove has converted approximately 1,800 square feet of office space into a mushroom lab with grow tents.
Its gourmet mushrooms are sustainably grown from coffee waste. She also makes mushrooms from scratch in an incubation room using recycled oak and soy from sawdust and protein waste from soy products.
In addition to fresh and dried mushrooms, she sells grow kits, called Future Farms, that customers can use to grow their own mushrooms at home.
“I wanted to have a flagship product where we live,” Musgrove said of his decision to join the Wauconda Farmers Market. “I’m starting to get a bit of traction after our first four weeks of showing. Last week was the best week we’ve had.
“I’m out there screaming about how we need to buy our food locally and support our local farms and how much better our food is when it’s not sitting on a truck for weeks. With the food supply chain issues and everything we’ve been through since COVID, it’s amplified that we need to come back this way.
In Grayslake, the Farmer’s Market also remains a popular draw.
Described as “the oldest and largest night market in Lake County,” the market takes place from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through September 28 on Center Street in downtown Grayslake.
“Our farmers are definitely having issues this year, getting help and the rising cost of their expenses,” said Julie Jason, market manager. “That said, we’re probably seeing the most traffic we’ve seen since pre-pandemic.”
The growth could be due to an increase in the number of new families in the community, she said, and the family-friendly nature of the market, which, like many markets, allows dogs. The live entertainment — with many nearby businesses taking part — creates a festive atmosphere, Jason said.
This summer’s market has 45 vendors, she said, with new additions such as a pick-your-own flower stand from Piscasaw Gardens in Harvard.
“It’s a fun environment on the street, and it gives our customers the opportunity to buy farm-to-table vegetables with a great selection from other vendors, wine, cheese, spices,” said she declared.
Other farmers’ markets in the area include:
• El Mercadito Round Lake Beach Farmers Market, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, September 17 at Lake Front Park, 1019 N. Lake Shore Drive, Round Lake Beach.
• Main Street Libertyville Farmers Market, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday through October 20 at Cook Park and on West Church Street.
• Fox Lake Farmers Market, 3-7 p.m. Tuesday through September 27 at 17 E. School Court.
• Mundelein Farmers Market, 3-7 pm Friday through October 14 at Park Street, between Lake and Seymour Streets.
• Antioch Farmers Market, 4-7 p.m. Thursday through September 22 at 900 Skidmore Drive.