September is one of the most abundant months of the year for Illinois farmers, featuring warm season crops like tomatoes and melons alongside cool weather crops like lettuce, apples, and winter squash.
However, the return of school session, cooling temperatures, and an increasing disconnect between shoppers and seasonality have all led to a drop off in farmers market attendance during this month. The resulting decline in sales increases food waste and weakens the economic viability of small farms before entering their slower winter months.
“There is such a wide variety of products this time of year,” says Molly Gleason of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA has managed the Market on behalf of DSI for the past two years), “and because the harvest is so plentiful in September, it’s also one of the most affordable times to shop locally. Plus there’s all kinds of varieties and flavors that you won’t find in the grocery store, like baby fairytale eggplants and green striped zebra tomatoes. It’s really one of the best months to shop at your farmers market.”
The Eat Local Challenge, organized by ISA in partnership with farmers markets across central Illinois, aims to combat the annual slump in sales that farmers experience during the month of September by encouraging shoppers to pledge to buy locally.
All you have to do to participate in the Eat Local Challenge campaign is to pledge to spend $20 each week on locally grown food. Last year, the first year of the campaign, over 250 people took the Challenge across Central Illinois. This year ISA hopes to have 500 participants, which would mean at least $40,000 in sales of locally-grown food for the Central Illinois region.
Did you realize: if even half of the shoppers just at our Market participated, we would have over 2000 participants this year??
Registration for the Eat Local Challenge will open THIS SATURDAY during National Farmers Market Week. You can register in person by visiting the Market Booth at 4th and Adams or any Central Illinois residents can sign up online at www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org.
The first 250 participants will receive a free, USA made, farmers market tote bag filled with more information on shopping locally—available at the Market in September. Additionally, all Challenge participants will be subscribed to a weekly e-newsletter featuring seasonal recipes, farmers market meal plans, storage and food preservation tips, and updates on local food events going on throughout the region.
“September isn’t the winding down of the farm, it’s the full throttle peak season for us. We have tended our land and crops for six months getting to our grand finale and it’s disappointing when we have no one show up for our end of the year extravaganza,” says Jacque Suttill-Simpson of Suttill’s Gardens, a long-time Market vendor. “We farmers experience the ‘slump’ right when our best is yet to come.”
In addition to our Old Capitol Farmers Market, other participating markets include ones in Downtown Bloomington, Downs Village, Urbana, Champaign, the Peoria Riverfront, and Streator.
In addition to taking the Eat Local Challenge, how else can you support the Old Capitol Farmers Market and the farmers who sell their goods every week?
Thursday, September 7: Downtown Springfield Inc. Friends of the Market Street Dinner
Thursday, September 14: Slow Food Springfield Tour of Petersburg Poultry Processing
Thursday, September 21: Local Flavors Dinner at Engrained Brewing Company
Sunday, September 24: Illinois Stewardship Alliance Annual Harvest Celebration