Whenever my family travels, I consider myself lucky to find a farmers’ market. Each market is a window into the local community, where we not only find fresh produce for snacking and cooking, but also local crafts, information, specialty items, and sometimes music. It’s where we meet people from the community and learn about a place’s unique identity.
The Fox Valley is lucky to have some excellent farmers’ markets. Aurora boasts the oldest farmers market in the State of Illinois, having begun in 1912. They set a high bar for other places we travel! My husband and I have gone to local markets for decades. Aurora's farmers market has the feel of an old-fashioned open-air market, where you run into friends, hear music from local artists, and get to know most of the vendors. It is unpretentious and friendly—like Aurora.
I love that there are vendors at the Aurora Farmers Market who have participated since the very beginning. One of these is Theis Farm. This year they are a fixture at both the Saturday downtown market at the Aurora Transportation Center and the west side’s Wednesday market off Galena Boulevard. I recently spoke with a 5th generation family member, Rob Pondelick. His grandfather was Henry Theis and Pondelick now works that same farm. He explained that his great grandfather had three children, who each all started their own farms. Pondelick also noted that they are developing their 6th generation of farmers with his daughter, Libby, an adorable youngster who is quickly becoming one of the farm’s best salespeople.
I asked if Theis Farms had a specialty and he answered: “We take a lot of pride in our home-grown tomatoes and sweet corn,” then added, “But we have a full range—A to Z—of basic vegetables and they are picked 24 to 48 hours before sale, so they’re always fresh.”
Each produce vendor seems to have a specialty. For Blue Freedom Farm, it’s peaches and melons. I spoke with Sarah, who told me Blue Freedom Farm had been part of the market for about 20 years. I experienced how stunningly sweet the melons were and now I try to buy one each week.
For building the perfect salad, try Broadview Farm and Gardens’ booth. They specialize in salad greens and other (all organic) vegetables that help to make a delicious, healthy salad.
If you have knives, tools, or scissors that need repair or sharpening, your first stop at the Saturday market should be The Finer Edge. Gregg Weinstock will sharpen them while you shop. He has been at the market for over a decade. He started out competing in the professional Barbecue circuit and realized chefs need a lot of sharpened knives. He manufactures his own equipment to sharpen all types of steel and all styles of knives.
One of Aurora’s local legends is Dick’s Mini Donuts. Dick was a teacher. Now he makes fresh donuts at farmers’ markets, weddings, and public events. He has been at the Saturday market for 22 years. You can watch the donuts being made then shake your warm donuts in a little bag of cinnamon and sugar. They’re worth every diet-busting calorie.
If you’re looking for heartier food, try a brat from the Wurst Kitchen. Wurst Kitchen serves smoked Bavarian, giant, and kicker (hot!) brats, as well as hotdogs at the Aurora Farmers Market. These are just a sampling of what you can find at their store at the corner of Union and Second Streets on Aurora’s east side, which has been a family-owned institution in Aurora since 1895. Their chocolate bacon bratwurst is one must-try for connoisseurs of bacon, chocolate, and encased meats. No one should go hungry while shopping!
The market always has local artisans who make beautiful jewelry. One is C & G Creations. Carolyn Niles is proud to be part of a family that has passed down jewelry making for 4 generations, with family members ranging in age from 16 to 97! Their crafts include glass, beading, wire wrapped pieces, wooden roses, vases, hair ties, and custom charm bracelets.
Want a cup of artisan-roasted coffee while you shop? Be sure to visit Tredwell Coffee. Owner Chad Dawes took over a storefront in Downtown Aurora and says he “changed everything from floor to ceiling.” Tredwell’s focus is on high quality coffee and espresso drinks and a newly launched lunch menu.
For salsa, preserves, pickles, and BBQ or pasta sauce, try Just Devine. They have four different types of pickles to satisfy all tastes. They can also be found at the Batavia Farmers Market and Oswego Country Market.
There are far too many unique and interesting vendors to mention them all. Most Saturdays you can find fresh fish, cheeses, local honey, organic meats, plants, flowers, and delicious, made-to-order juices in addition to the vendors mentioned in this story.
The Aurora Farmers’ Market enriches life for locals and gives visitors a glimpse of a city that is firmly rooted in a heritage of family business and entrepreneurial spirit, yet constantly evolving with new products and ideas.