South Elgin cancels its farmers market, while Elgin and St. Charles efforts work to beat the heat
By Mike Danahey email@example.com July 14, 2012 5:10PM
Gonzalo Avina of Elgin loads up ears of corn Thursday at the Downtown Elgin Harvest Market at 200 North Grove Avenue across from the Gail Borden Public Library. July 12, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 17, 2012 6:29AM
It seems pretty obvious that the current drought would affect what might be found at local farmers markets, but probably not to this extent.
On Wednesday afternoon, and without telling their hosts, the handful of vendors who had been getting ready in South Elgin at Flower Wagon Garden & Nursery Center, 989 W. Spring St., pulled up shop and left.
The weekly summer afternoon market was supposed to run its usual 3 to 6 p.m., but sellers were gone shortly after 3 p.m., leaving Rich Kator and family to tell the couple dozen people who showed up to shop that vendors had left and that they had no idea why — or why a South Elgin parks and recreation department worker removed signs promoting the event.
“I’m angry. I made a special trip to be here,” Marcia Winters of South Elgin said.
“I wanted to buy some fruits and vegetables and support local farming,” said a disappointed Jenneke Matus of Elgin.
Recreation Supervisor Erin Clancy said a farm that had been coming to South Elgin informed the department it no longer would be able to make it. With that attraction gone, the decision was made to cancel the program for the rest of the summer and re-evaluate having it again in 2013.
“The response had not been what we thought it might be,” Clancy said. “Maybe patrons are going to other local markets.”
Clancy also apologized for the short notice and said she called the Kators later Wednesday to explain what happened. She also noted an update will be placed on the village website and that people on the parks and rec email list will be notified electronically.
“It’s kind of sad,” Kator said Thursday morning. “It would be nice if they would talk to us. Maybe with our connections, we could have salvaged this for this year. And we’re willing to help out for next year or maybe have a farmers market of our own.”
On Wednesday, Kator said that those who were getting ready on the pleasant summer afternoon included Cupcake Daddy and Juice Plus. Not present July 11 were a kids book seller, a jeweler, a dip maker, and the aforementioned farmers produce stand that had been there on past Wednesdays.
Kator said that South Elgin parks and recreation department staff approached him in April about moving the second year of the market from near village hall to the lot for his nursery just a couple blocks east of McLean Boulevard. He agreed to lend space, gratis.
As many as nine stands had been present since the market opened on June 6, Kator said, although in recent, hotter weeks he had seen those numbers dwindle — including on the Fourth of July, when vendors set up earlier to take advantage of the parade passing by on Spring Street.
Kator said he bought the long-standing business in December and has been in the nursery industry for about 20 years. He noted the recent hot dry spell is among the longest he has seen during that time and that a hose somewhere at the nursery is running pretty much all the time lately.
“The mild spring was great for us,” Kator said. “Things slowed down Memorial Day weekend with the record heat we had.”
These days, people are coming in for perennials and to replace trees, shrubs and other plants that have succumbed to this year’s conditions, Kator said. He’s recommending home gardeners use deep-root watering systems and “keeping plants cool and happy.”
A good choice of flowering plants this season is sedum, Kator said, which has thick leaves, needs little water and produces a pink flower in late summer and early fall.
Still going well
While things abruptly ended in South Elgin, Rob Murphy said the Friday morning farmers market in St. Charles is going pretty well at its location, at Baker Memorial United Methodist at Fourth Avenue and Main Street.
Murphy manages the market and said there are nine farmers who have been coming to St. Charles whose offerings include fruit, vegetables, meat and flowers. Usually 25 to 30 vendors of all sorts — including spots offering breakfast, lunch and beverages — have been setting up, which is about 60 percent more than last year, Murphy said.
“This has been a great summer so far,” Murphy said. “Most of our farmers have been at this for a long time and have been through conditions like this before. That includes an orchard in Michigan that’s been bringing fruit.”
What can keep shoppers away is the blistering heat experienced during Fourth of July week, Murphy said. What helps in St. Charles in the location has a tree canopy keeping it shady and therefore a bit cooler.
Murphy runs his own business, Curds & Whey Cheese Company, which is located at Heritage Prairie Farm, 2N308 Brundige Road, La Fox (not far from Randall Road in Geneva). Heritage Prairie has its own farmers market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, and Murphy also sets up at the Geneva French Market at the South Third Street Metra Station lot from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.
“Naturally, I am concerned about how this drought is impacting our farmers,” he said. “I pray for rain, as long as it’s not during one of our markets.”
Thursday at the Harvest Market in downtown Elgin, 17 vendors were present, including three farm stands.
Chris Prchal of Trogg’s Hollow in Elgin said that the weather this year meant losing 4,000 celery plants, which were requiring too much water to survive. Prchal said tomatoes, peppers and squash came in earlier, while peas are already gone or dried up and that beans have stopped producing.
“Unfortunately, weeds don’t stop in drought. We’ve been spending two or three times as much this year working on their removal,” Prchal said. “As far as what we offer, we planted a big variety to have backup.”
At the Kap Farms stand, worker Rudy Alvarez said, “Things have been so-so. Tomatoes and cucumbers have been good, but we need the rain.”
Kap Farms has locations throughout the South and Midwest, including in Algonquin, and was offering a variety of fruits and vegetables that included exotic purple and orange cauliflower hybrids.
Kristin Srail of Windy Acres Farm in Geneva said the drought has been tough on her family, with lots of extra hours put in on watering from the property’s well.
“We were three weeks ahead, then it stopped raining,” Srail said.
Although still offering a plethora of produce, the family farm is behind on its sweet corn and is charging about 10 percent more than it did last year, while eating some costs themselves to remain competitive.
Still, Srail said that stone fruit seems to be particularly succulent this year, if more pricey. Windy Acres offers peaches from southern Illinois for $3.99 per pound, up 50 cents from last summer.
Dave Roesner of Dropseed Design & Farm in Aurora said this was the first year his landscaping business would be offering produce including tomatoes, squash, melons and cabbage which have been impacted by the drought.
“And we lost our cut flowers in April. In March, the greenhouses got above 100 degrees,” Roesner said. “As is, we spend most of the day watering.”
Bob Jungwirth, a certified arborist with Davey Tree in East Dundee, noted that the weather has distressed trees, making them particularly vulnerable to insects.
Along with invasive ash borers, native maple borers are wreaking havoc, too, Jungwirth said. He pointed to a bank of 20-year-old autumn glaze maples near Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin as example.
“In addition to battling the borers, they’ve had three leaf-outs already,” Jungwirth said.
Jungwirth noted that those who have been able to keep their gardens and plants watered and fertilized should come out OK. But the company has curtailed most of its lawn service but for a very few clients, and he anticipates that many homeowners will overseed in the fall.
“Lawns are like hay fields right now. It’s so dry, we put plywood under our trucks when on ground as a precaution to prevent fires,” Jungwirth said.
“I’ve been in the business 15 years, and this is the worst I’ve seen,” Jungwirth said. “We have a client in Elgin who is 96, and she says the same thing.”