Near the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Diversey Parkway, January cold creeps into a large, once-abandoned building. The pastel blue and purple walls chip off their paint onto the unfinished floor below. Despite the conditions, the leftover building has a newfound purpose in the winter, from Nov. 6 until March 26. The Logan Square Farmers Market has taken hold for its indoor season.
Candi Skinner, from the Lyons Farm Market outside of South Haven, Michigan, left her home at 6 a.m. and drove three hours to sell her farm’s produce, namely apples, at the market here in Logan Square. She has been a full-time employee for the farm for about 13 years now, running a greenhouse, fruit shop, ice cream stand and selling at other farmers markets in the summer.
Skinner stands smiling behind her apples, cider and jade plants. Next to her on the table sits a collection of LINK card (the Illinois version of a SNAP program) coupons, of which she has just given out the last slip for and will now have to go get more.
Two years ago, the Logan Square Farmers Market partnered with LINK Up Illinois to provide coupon vouchers for LINK card holders who purchase produce at the winter market. For every $1, up to $15, spent using their LINK card per market day, the market will match them in coupons to be used on fresh produce in the summer and fall.
“I think it’s great that it makes it more accessible to people, healthier food options,” Skinner said. “They get better quality food that’s actually good for them. Rather than like a Little Debbie Cake that’s a dollar, they can come here and buy something with nutritional value for their money. I think that’s wonderful.”
As Skinner speaks about her love for the program, a young woman bundled up in a scarf walks up to the table to purchase some apples. After finishing the transaction, she tells Skinner that she’s using the LINK card and would like one of her slips.
Emily Mclaughin is a LINK card holder and weekly attendee at the Logan Square Farmers Market, attending more in the summer now that she has coupons for fresh, local produce.
“I have a couple of friends who are also on food stamps and using the LINK here too, and so all of us were really excited when we saw that it started up. There is a need in this neighborhood that I think sometimes gets overlooked,” Mclaughin said.
Whitney Richardson, special projects manager for the Logan Square Farmers Market, acts as a community liaison in promoting the Double Value Program with LINK card holders, which is currently funded through a grant from Experimental Station, a not-for-profit corporation on the South Side.
When the funds came in, they saw a 250 percent increase in attendance at the following summer market, according to Richardson.
“I think as Logan Square continues to change, we need to make sure that we’re reaching people who are at a lower income bracket and making sure that the opportunity to continue is there in the community,” Richardson said.
As a strong promoter of the Double Value Program, Richardson has plans for the future. She hopes to put together a cookbook that can be sold at the market. Proceeds would then go straight back into funding the Double Value Program. Recipes would come not only from Richardson, but from vendors at the market as well.
“It’s not necessarily [that] they’re able to get more food, but they’re able to get better food,” Richardson said. “It also helps raise more funds that are getting channeled directly to producers as opposed to going to a mass grocery store.”
At the indoor market, the shoppers mulling around exude a sense of pride for the way they shop. Every few feet walked includes a new interaction and unique conversation with a local Midwestern vendor. Strangers smile at strangers, and their stride shows off a desire to actually go about their weekly errands in the familiar comfort of the farmers market, rather than in the dim fluorescent glow of a grocery store. No one is awkwardly pushed past, no one is in each other’s ways.
Set up against a faded purple wall, two young siblings play music for the market. A young boy on banjo and an even younger girl on mandolin give a shy smile to their small audience. A tip jar with printed smiley faces on it sits in the corner, more full than the average panhandler’s on the street.
The Logan Square Farmers Market is coming to a close for the week, but rest assured they’ll be back next week, and every week through the rest of the winter.