Home World Larger farmers market opens in new Waukegan location

Larger farmers market opens in new Waukegan location

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A larger farmers market — with more vendors and a high-traffic location — is emerging in Waukegan as Michael Brankin’s effort to bring fresh, healthy food to people in northeast Lake County enters its third year.

The Waukegan Farmers Market opened for the season Friday in the parking lot of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep on Belvidere Road in Waukegan with a dozen vendors selling items from fresh produce to freshly cooked meals.

Opening a farmers market in North Chicago two years ago and adding them at the Waukegan Harbor & Marina and in Park City last summer, Brankin said he chose to consolidate the effort in one location with abundant traffic going in each direction.

Waukegan Farmers Market founder Michael Brankin and Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep director of development Candice Tonon talk about the market. (Steve Sadin/Lake County News-Sun)
Waukegan Farmers Market founder Michael Brankin and Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep director of development Candice Tonon talk about the market. (Steve Sadin/Lake County News-Sun)

“The access here is central to Waukegan, North Chicago and Park City,” he said. “This is a highly trafficked commercial area central to the three communities we serve.”

Operating from 3 to 7 p.m. each Friday through Aug 30, Brankin said eight vendors were unable to be there for opening day because of other commitments. He anticipates 15 to 20 each week as the season progresses, including five offering fresh produce.

Candice Tonon, Cristo Rey’s director of development, said bringing the market to the school is part of its mission to be part of the community. It holds health fairs and food distributions in cooperation with the Northern Illinois Food Bank, among its activities.

Tonon said the Friday afternoon timing appeals to people who work in Waukegan — many of whom have jobs at the Lake County Courthouse & Administration Building — and those who live in the city.

“People coming from the east can stop on their way home from work,” she said. “People who live here can stop on their way home. Maybe a different not-for-profit organization can be featured here each week.”

Z Vakili was operating Wadsworth-based Middleton Preserves’ booth with a variety of fresh organic produce from farms in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. She said the new location is an improvement over the harborside site a year ago.

“This is much easier to get to,” she said. “Last year, you had to get around the train station, and get around the Amstutz (Expressway). This is right off a main road.”

Chad Thaxter grills chicken Friday at the Waukegan Farmers Market opening day. (Steve Sadin/For the Lake County News-Sun)
Chad Thaxter grills chicken Friday at the Waukegan Farmers Market opening day. (Steve Sadin/For the Lake County News-Sun)

Catering to a variety of people in the Waukegan area, Brankin said those who are part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can essentially pay half-price by showing their Link Card issued by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

“We match what they buy on their Link card,” he said. “If they spend $20, they can get $40 worth of groceries. We know fresh, healthy food is more expensive. This is a way low-income people can afford it.”

Vanessa Balleza was perusing the produce at the Middleton booth with her daughter, Graciele. Vanessa Balleza said she liked the array of peppers, carrots, asparagus, zucchini, cucumbers, peaches, radishes, potatoes, preserves, jams and more.

“It’s good to see all this here,” she said. “I like the fresh produce. It’s very healthy. They’ll be gone before we get home,” she added, referring to the blueberries her daughter was eating along the way.

The opening of the Waukegan Farmers Market in the Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep parking lot Friday was a family affair for this group. (Steve Sadin/For the Lake County News-Sun)
The opening of the Waukegan Farmers Market in the Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep parking lot Friday was a family affair for this group. (Steve Sadin/For the Lake County News-Sun)

Along with three vendors selling produce including Brankin, there were two caterers — Island Flavaz Grill and Merinos Tacos — who both have thoughts of a brick-and-mortar restaurant location in the future.

Grilling and selling Jamaican food, Kamara Thaxter said her family came to the area from Jamaica in 2007. Now an instructional coach with Zion Elementary School District 6, the business lets her share her culture. Her husband, Chad, does the grilling.

“It’s an opportunity to share Jamaican food with the community,” she said. “I’m pretty busy with my job, but maybe one day we’ll think about a restaurant.”

Tirzah Norwood-Jones of Zion was one of Island Flavaz’s customers Friday. She said she did not want to miss the opportunity to take advantage of their booth at the market to get dinner for her and friends.

‘This is the best jerk chicken I’ve ever had,” Norwood-Jones said. “This is a great way to end my workday today.”



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