With grocers closed, West Side market’s work more important than ever

Volunteers [and staff] harvesting food for the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market. | Courtesy Garfield Park Community Council/Facebook

The Garfield Park Neighborhood Market recently won a $1,000 marketing grant, money that the market’s operator says is crucial now that Aldi and Save-A-Lot are closed

From Austin Weekly News

Garfield Park Neighborhood Market, a farmers market operated by the Garfield Park Community Council inside the Hatchery food business incubator, 135 N. Kedzie Ave., got a $1,000 private grant to help market its offerings.

Angela Taylor, who runs the market, said that getting the word out is more important than ever since the West Garfield Park Aldi location, 3835 W. Madison St., closed in early October 2021 and the Save-A-Lot at 420 S. Pulaski Rd. got shut down by the city on Feb. 8 due to a rat infestation.

The grant came from Compeer Financial, a Minnesota-based cooperative lender that makes loans to farmers throughout the Midwest. The Farmers Market Grants program is one of 10 grant programs the cooperative set up as part of its mission to give back to communities.

The grant program launched three years ago. This year, they gave a total of $76,000 in grants to 80 farmers markets in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Karen Schieler, Compeer’s senior giving specialist, said that many of their member-owners wanted to do something to support the farmers markets, and they felt the grant program was a good way to encourage people to gather together and get a more direct sense of where their food comes from.

Garfield Park Neighborhood Market was launched in 2012 on the vacant lot that the Hatchery would eventually be built on. It was an outgrowth of the Garfield Park Garden Network, a collaboration between West and East Garfield Park community gardens, green spaces and urban farms.

While the Aldi and Save-A-Lot locations were open in West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park had no grocery stores whatsoever.

The garden network members wanted to have a place where they could sell what they grew while making it easier for local residents to buy fresh produce. The construction of the Hatchery gave the market a permanent indoor space for the first time, though the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to scale back the plans.

Taylor said that, while they hoped to open an indoor market this winter, vaccination rates in Garfield Park zip codes are lagging behind city averages, which made her decide to hold off launching it until April. She said that attendees need to wear masks and hand sanitizers will be available throughout.

Compeer is one of the many lending cooperatives that are part of the Farm Credit System, a government-sponsored enterprise set up by Congress in 1916 to provide loans to farmers. Schieler explained that, every year, Compeer sets aside 1% of its earnings and puts it in the Fund for Rural America, which funds a variety of programs, including grants, that support “agricultural advocacy and development, agriculture education, cooperative initiatives, rural development and community enrichment; and youth engagement.”

The Farmers Market Grant program supports the goal of community enrichment and helps many farmers who get their loans, she added.

“The farmers markets are vital to their business model,” Schieler said. “That’s primarily where they’re selling produce. So we’re making that investment, not only on behalf of our clients, but knowing what the markets can do for communities, rural communities in particular, where they’re providing that sense of the community, giving people reasons to gather.”

Out of the seven Chicago farmers markets that got the grant this year, Garfield Park Neighborhood Market is the only market that serves majority-Black communities.

“We feel that we need to continue to build upon the community outreach, to inform the residents of the community, especially during these times,” Taylor said. ‘It’s unfortunate that, in the dead of winter, we don’t have a grocery store. My heart is breaking.”

The grant would mostly be used to advertise on the billboard at the northeastern corner of Lake Street and Kedzie Avenue, as well as to print fliers, magnets and other pieces of information people can take with them. They also intend to grow their presence by setting up pop-up tables at other events, similar to what they did at the Austin Town Hall Park farmers market last summer.

Taylor said that they won’t start planning exactly where and when those pop-ups will happen until they know what kind of harvest they have to work with.

“I think we’ve seen how farmers markets are stepping up to serve in the areas that might not have traditional grocery stores,” Schieler said. “A lot of time, [it happens] in a very low-maintenance sort of way that doesn’t have a lot of overhead.  Farmers markets can definitely address that, as well as add to the overall ambiance,  [creating a space] where people can gather together outside.”

For more information about the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market, visit https://www.gpcommunitycouncil.org/programs/neighborhood-market

For more information about Compeer Financial Fund for Rural America grants, visit https://www.compeer.com/investing-in-rural-communities/giving-back/grants