DeKALB – Mark Yeager knows he's not the only stop for someone hunting for local produce, but he's happy to be one of them.
Yeager, the owner of Yaeger's Farms in Cortland, and many other local farmers and business owners like him are ready for the waves of customers wanting to buy locally grown food.
A lot of people stop by Yaeger Farms daily or weekly for their produce, Yaeger said, although he knows those customers might also buy vegetables from a supermarket early in the summer.
When the farm is in full swing late July through August, though, vegetable needs could be filled at his farm stand, he said. The farm grows sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions and cucumbers, to name a few.
Although it could cost 10 cents more for a pound of vegetables grown locally, Yaeger believes the extra dime is more than offset by the benefits.
“You can put a face and a name to the person who grew it,” Yaeger said. “And rather than coming from somewhere in the U.S., you know where it came from. That's got to be worth it.”
Farmers markets in Illinois have grown by 300 percent in the past 20 years, according to the Illinois Farmers Market Association.
The change hasn't been lost on Sycamore Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Treml.
“At first the farmers market was really trendy, but now we see people shopping for the week,” Treml said.
Barb Pondelick, of Theis Farms in Maple Park, showcases the produce grown on the 20-acre farm she's owned since 1981 at the DeKalb and Sycamore Farmers' Markets.
“I've been preparing every day since the middle of February,” the farmers' market veteran said.
Pondelick said she's noticed a growing affinity for kale and an increased awareness among shoppers about the food they are buying. She's also noticed people buying less as the size of families decreases
“People definitely seem to be slinging in a new directions to know where your food is coming from,” Pondelick said.
She's not sure how her prices compare to those at local supermarkets, but Pondelick said the appeal and benefits of buying from a local farmer can't be counted in dollars and cents. She noted its more environmentally friendly because the vegetables aren't being shipped from across the country. The money spent locally also tends to stay local, she said.
“I don't think it's that much a difference and they know it's fresh,” Pondelick said. “I think a lot of times people will see what we have so they can get it fresh and local before going to the grocery store.”
The farmers market scene evolved in ways outside of sheer expansion.
Of the 375 farmers markets in Illinois, about 35 percent accept Link cards from people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps.
People used more than $300,000 in food stamps last year at Illinois farmers markets, such as DeKalb's.
Allowing more people to access fresh, locally grown food, KishHealth System again this year will offer vouchers to women in the Women, Infants and Children program as well as seniors.
WIC recipients will be able to pick up a packet containing $19 worth of vouchers during an appointment at the DeKalb County Health Department. Seniors will be able to pick up packets with $9 worth of vouchers from local senior centers.
“I think those programs really boost local farmers markets,” Stieren said. “Markets are definitely increase their customers. That's something we really want to look at, is how to make farmers markets expand and help farmers grow.”