If you are a farmers market goer, most likely you've visited (or at the very least heard of) Green City Market. It is mecca for professional and home chefs alike, renowned for sourcing only the best from growers, farmers and purveyors who must be certified by an approved third party agency to ensure superior quality, environmental stewardship practices and sustainably focused processing. With a Link benefits matching program making Link and SNAP benefit dollars go even farther, and the expansion from their large Lincoln Park Saturday market to include a Sunday West Loop market and Thursday evening market at The Park at Wrigley - this commitment to keeping dollars circulating within the local economy, supporting local purveyors, sets Green City apart from the city's saturation of farmers markets. Read on for more about how they got started, the best part about working in this field, and Chicago where food economy has room for improvement.
How did Green City Market get started? How has GCM evolved since its beginning?
Green City Market was started in 1998 by Abby Mandel. After visiting Europe, and seeing their sustainable markets with world-class food, she thought Chicago was a world-class city that could implement a farmers market focused on local, seasonal produce. At first, Green City Market was a small market next to the Chicago Theatre with just nine local farmers. She begged all the local chefs of Chicago to come out to the market and support farmers. This was transformative to the Chicago culinary scene as many chefs started to focus on local, seasonal food for their menus.
Nearly twenty years later, Abby’s mission to bring local, sustainable and seasonal food to Chicago is ever-expanding and in full force. Green City Market has grown to almost 60 vendors. The market found a beautiful site for our largest location in Lincoln Park, continued with park settings in the West Loop in Mary Bartelme Park and Wrigleyville at the Park at Wrigley. Last year, we experienced crowds of over 175,000 visitors to our markets.
What would you be doing right now on a typical workday?
There is no typical day at Green City Market; every day is different. During the week, we split our time between our markets, our office and meetings. On a typical market day, I check in with our vendors, greet shoppers, and communicate with the community to provide the best possible market experience.
What’s the best part about your job? The hardest part?
The best part is working with the farmers and the shoppers. I learn something new from the farmers every market day. I also love the educational programs for kids.
The hardest parts of the job are balancing the competing priorities. There are so many opportunities for us to do more through education, access, and working with farmers.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Chicago’s food systems to overcome?
Chicago must overcome its limited accessibility to healthy food for all Chicagoans. Also, Chicago needs to improve its communication about how to buy directly from farmers, and the importance of buying direct and local. In this era, we constantly see advertisements for “sustainable food,” but there is no better way to ensure sustainability more than directly communicating with the people that grow your food and ask them about their growing practices.
How does your work relate to the Slow Food objectives (good, clean, + fair food)?
Our objectives align beautifully. As a non-profit that supports local food that is sustainably grown, we were one of the first farmers market in the country to require a third-party sustainability certification in order to be a vendor at our market. We empower local vendors by giving them a platform to sell their produce and products directly to shoppers and chefs.. We encourage people to create a meal together and cook incredible, local produce. There is nothing more unifying than gathering around a table of food that makes you feel good, and know that it comes from a good place.
What is your favorite Chicago (food related) social media account to follow (and why)?
We love to follow our vendors and other local Chicago accounts on social media. We keep in close contact with our vendors, so it’s great to get personal updates and social media updates to see what they’re up to. Not only are they our vendors, they’re also our family.
What wins for trendiest brunch item that you spread on toast - avocado mash or beet hummus?
My personal preference is avocado mash, but I’m torn because it isn’t local! If I had to choose a trendy market brunch, it would be a toasted baguette from Bennison’s Bakery with Prairie Fruits Chevre and Ellis Farms Honey.
What’s your favorite spot or dish that emulates your ideal of a good (for health and pleasure), clean (for the planet), + fair (in production and access for all) bite to eat in the city or suburbs (and why)?
The first spot that came to mind was Cellar Door Provisions -- they go above and beyond what it means to create good food. They do everything they can to source local and waste nothing. In my opinion, they are true to what is local and what is seasonal.
Why Chicago? If not Chicago, where would you like to do your work?
Chicago is where I was born and raised. I chose to raise my family here with my husband. It’s a dense urban setting with a great community and access to healthy, local, sustainable food. But, if not Chicago, I would go to Rome, Italy. My husband and I agreed to go to Rome when our last child starts College.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I feel so lucky to be a part of Green City Market and the work we’re doing, including doing collaborations with great organizations, such as Slow Food. I believe that working together we can make our local food system better.