On any given Saturday or Tuesday – from spring through the fall – the Woodstock Square is bustling with locals and visitors alike.

So it’s no surprise the Woodstock Farmers Market bagged high billings in the American Farmland Trust’s summer-long Farmers Market Celebration. The AFT has been promoting farmers markets around the nation in an effort to draw attention to local farmers and encourage customers, farmers and community members to endorse markets nationwide. 

“Farmers markets are critical for new and beginning farmers,” Susan Sink, AFT vice president of Development and External Relations, said. “Many farmers struggle to stay financially afloat and face daily pressure from development to sell their land. Farmers markets provide a wonderful opportunity for family farmers to sell directly to consumers and keep their farmland in farming.”

Keith Johnson, Woodstock Farmers Market manager, agreed. “The market gives a retail outlet to the farmers – and that is an important part of keeping our farmers farming.”

The Woodstock Farmers Market was ranked by AFT among the top five markets in Illinois and among the top 50 in most categories nationally – including People’s Choice, Focus on the Farmers, Healthy Food for All, Pillar of the Community and Champion for the Environment.

“The most important category really is the People’s Choice. We were ranked fourth in Illinois [and 50th nationwide]. This means the most because the AFT is polling the people who actually go to the markets – and we want to serve the customers,” Johnson explained.

Woodstock also is ranked fourth in Illinois and 49th nationwide in the Focus on the Farmers category – something Johnson also is proud of as he and his team require inspections of participating farms to ensure all of the produce sold by vendors is actually grown where and how they are said to be grown. It keeps the product local and promotes healthy farming practices as well as supports local farmers.

The market ranked fourth in Illinois and 48th in nationwide polls in the Healthy Food for All category. Johnson believes the availability of the LINK system contributes to this. 

“This year, we partnered with LINK Up Illinois, and, through a grant, we were able to match the money on the card up to $25. … We were able to provide more healthy food for people who need it most,” Johnson said. The grant provided assistance for a period of time during the summer market. Johnson plans to apply for the grant again, but the market also hosts fundraisers in order to provide more LINK credit throughout the market season. 

In the category of Champion for the Environment Woodstock ranked 4th in Illinois and 49th nationwide. “We have a reusable bag initiative – local businesses have provided reusable bags for us to use. One year we had our logo on reusable bags. We also encourage organic practices among our vendors. I think that means a lot to our customers,” Johnson said.

Finally, Woodstock ranked 3rd in Illinois and 48th nationwide in the category of Pillar of the Community. 

“We try to offer a variety of things – in the summer, there is storytime with [Woodstock Public Library children’s librarian] Mary Ryan; there is live music at all the markets;  we have a potter – Vivian Ginsberg Smith – who throws pottery on Saturdays; we have yarn; we have soap; we try to have something for everyone,” Johnson said.

While the outdoor market season is winding down – the last day of the outdoor market is Tuesday, Oct. 25 – Johnson encouraged the community to visit the winter market.

“We will have less leafy vegetables, but along with our usual vendors, we will have a woman who will sell [hydroponic] lettuce,” he said. He also said the market will sell fish caught by independent Alaskan fisherman, partnering with professors in Galesburg, to flash-freeze the fish and provide quality seafood to Woodstock residents.

The winter market will begin Saturday, Oct. 29, in Building D at the McHenry County Fairgrounds, 11900 Country Club Road. The market will be held on select Saturdays until April from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The complete schedule can be found at www.woodstockfarmersmarket.org.

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