Chicago’s Daley Plaza has been home to a farmers’ market for 35 years, marking it as the oldest in the city.

Members of the 2015 Cultivating Master Farmers class experienced the weekly market last week, and got the inside story from farmer Carl Smits of Chicago Heights.
Cultivating Master Farmers links young farmers with Prairie Farmer Master Farmers. Sponsors include 1st Farm Credit Services, Farm Credit Services of Illinois, GROWMARK, Illinois Farm Bureau, Monsanto and Prairie Farmer.
Smits, who owns and operates Smits Farms, had no farming background when he started his operation in 1991. Yet, he has become highly successful.
Smits noted transportation comprises one of his biggest challenges as a producer wanting to sell in the city. In order to get produce to the market location, Smits and other family members park several blocks away and haul their produce to the plaza on carts. This activity takes place before the sun rises to get ahead of city traffic. 
Despite the challenges, Smits sees the benefit and demand from the community. The family sells produce at nine Chicago markets every week. 
When customers ask Smits about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and organic farming, the farmer said he always asks the customer about their knowledge on the topic before he explains it in detail.

"Some people listen, and some don’t care; nothing you can say will change their mind. Sometimes you have to let it go,” he said. Smits Farms is Food Alliance Certified, meaning food gets produced and processed in a sustainable and safe way. 
On the other hand, few people ask Smits about where he grows the food he sells. If a person asks, family members willingly tell the customer the produce was grown on their family farm just a few miles out of town. Family members also invite customers to stop by the farm and visit. 

“Hardly anyone is worried enough that they actually come to the farm, though,” Smits added. 

Yescenia Mota, coordinator of the city’s 40 farmers’ markets, said she has seen an increasing demand for fresh food. She added she’s happy to see consumers shifting toward locally grown foods. 

(Photo caption: Rachael Smits of Chicago Heights keeps track of inventory during rush hour sales at the Chicago Daley Plaza Farmer’s Market last week.  Smits and her family shared their story with the 2015 Cultivating Master Farmers class, who visited the market...Photo by Jenny Jackson)

Article by Jenny Jackson, who serves as Illinois Farm Bureau youth ambassador. 

*Posted in FarmWeek.