I’m not sure if my mom got it from me, or I got it from her, but we both love a good farmer’s market. We’re fortunate to have one on Wednesdays just up the street from our family home in Rockford, Illinois, so during my week home resting and cooking in my virtual test kitchen (mom’s kitchen), my sister Jenny and I went to check it out. I hadn’t been in years, maybe even ten, and I wasn’t prepared for what we found there—an absolute jewel of a market filled with astoundingly delicious locally-grown produce at incredibly fair prices. There’s also world-class cheeses, alluring bunches of fresh flowers and the best pizza I’ve had all summer (which is saying something, since I live in New York).
While I can’t claim to have tried it all, here are three standouts that should not be missed:
Van Laar’s Fruit Farm Stand
It was the sweet face of Rachel Van Laars, the fourth of the five Van Laar’s children, that got my attention as much as the sweet corn she was selling. Her conversation kept me there, the confident manner in which she conducted business and answered my questions about life on the farm with her brothers and sisters. Admittedly, I wanted to crawl inside their family truck and head home, if just for a day, to what seems a more innocent world, the precious and fleeting institution of the family farm. Instead, I took home an armful of their sweet corn and heaps of heirloom tomatoes, which delivered on their promise of simpler times. Besides their inviting selection of fruits and vegetables, don't miss their locally grown and milled whole-wheat four and wheat berries.
Cheese from The Cheese People of Beloit
Here you’ll find an all-around great selection of fresh and aged cheese, mostly regional (yah for artisan Wisconsin cheese!) with the occasional import (like the buttery sheep's milk Lamb Chopper from Cypress Grove). Do not miss the Raspberry Bellavitano from Wisconsin, a subtly sweet and sharp cheese aged in New Glarus Raspberry Ale, named the Best New Cheese and Cheese of the Year at the 2008 World Cheese Awards in Ireland. The Cheese People keep their cheeses wrapped in plastic due to local health codes, but since cheese is a living, breathing food, be sure to rewrap it in wax or cheese paper before you store it in your fridge. Or better yet, put it out right away to enjoy.
WoodFire Brick Oven Pizza by Joe D'Astice
This pizza is every bit as good as it looks. Let the line that forms in front of the mobile brick-oven operation speak for itself. Eight dollars will buy you a very, very good lunch.
There are a dozen or more farmers worth getting acquainted with at this market alone (like the folks selling the brilliant bouquets of zinnias, and the lady at the south end who sold me plump organic eggplant and crisp purple peppers). I’ll be returning once more on my way to O’Hare as I head back east, and again and again whenever I’m in town.
In case you miss today’s Edgebrook market, here’s a list of all the farmer’s markets, locations, dates and times in Rockford.
COLONIAL VILLAGE FARMERS' MARKET
Newburg Road & Alpine Road
Late May through October, Fridays from 9am to 1pm.
EDGEBROOK FARMERS' MARKET
Edgebrook Shopping Center
Wednesdays. First week in June - last week in October: 9 am to 1 pm.
MIDTOWN FARMERS' MARKET
222 Seventh Street
Fridays, 3pm to 8pm. The best produce from our local farmers including seasonal vegetables, fruits, herbs, plants, flowers and more.
NORTH END COMMONS FARMERS' MARKET
1400 North Main Street, West lot
Saturdays, May through October, from 8am to noon.
RIVER DISTRICT FARMERS MARKET
YMCA South Lot, 215 Y Blvd
Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8am to noon. Take time out of your busy day to do some healthy eating shopping which features low prices and locally grown organic produce.
PERRYVILLE FARMERS MARKET
Perryville Commons, South Perryville Road and Fincham Drive
Saturdays through October from 9am to 1pm.