Chicagoans buying locally grown food

CHICAGO "Well I really like the opportunity to talk to the farmers, I get to learn about the fruits and vegetables I'm buying, I really didn't know there were like 10 different varieties of peaches," shopper Teresa Zeigler said.

Besides the beauty and experience of the market, many are there to buy local. "I don't know if you've sensed much about the local food movement, and it is a movement, but it just makes a lot of sense to have your food first of all to have your food grown closer to where you're getting it, so it hasn't travelled as far," seller Robin Schirmer said.

In fact, many say something as simple as buying local has big advantages.

"If I buy locally and this is an organic farmer's market, I feel that the food is safer, so the food is grown without the pesticides and the herbicides, and you know, the contaminants that we hear so much about foods now, like the tomato debacle, you know people getting sick off tomatoes, I've never gotten sick off of anything I've purchased here," Zeigler said.

Advantages like safety and supporting local business led Paul Komelasky, director of Northwestern's dining services, to instruct suppliers to buy as much local produce as possible for the campus, and he says it has had other unexpected benefits.

"I think it's also good business for our purveyors too, they like the idea too of not having to pay that higher cost of going much farther out, and looking at our transportation costs today, they are just so dramatic and have such an impact on our business and the cost of food," Komelasky said.

When Northwestern joined the Farm to College program in 2001, the emphasis was on organic food, but the focus has now shifted.

"Today, students are much more concerned about the whole footprint, and how we're able to control that carbon footprint by buying locally versus buying something that's coming as far as California or Washington State," Komelasky said.

Although Komelasky says that local produce only costs more during off-peak growing seasons, some shoppers find higher prices at the market. Even so, most are willing to pay the few extra dollars.

"A lot of the food grown by big companies is actually subsidized by the government through grants and the small farmers very rarely receive any kind of grants, so what I'm paying is actually the true cost of food. When I go to the grocery store I'm paying part of the cost then and I'm paying the rest through my taxes," shopper Kay Hackl said.

Another draw to the markets is the chance to interact with the sellers.

"It's a very personal relationship; you see many of the same people over and over again. It also provides a very civilized softness in the city, it's really great, you see that in the people who come here, just smile when they walk in," vender Jonathan Utley said.

Chicago offers 33 farmers markets between those run by the city and those that are independent. They run Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May to October.

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