EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- With a lot of restaurant business drying up over the past year, farmers and other food producers have been looking for new ways to expand their business. A handful of businesses have cropped up as a result, serving as middlemen, giving these small food producers new avenues to sell directly to the public.
The pandemic has upended all sorts of traditional careers in the food business. Previous business models have gone out the window. But for a local documentary filmmaker, it presented an opportunity, to serve as a link connecting the public directly with the farms and artisan food producers who need to find new customers.
The staff is busy in the walk-in cooler, loading up green containers filled with fresh produce and locally made grocery items, as they fulfill online orders. Most days at Village Farmstand in Evanston are like this lately, as the tiny shop serves as a conduit between the farm and the public.
"We're a micro warehouse, brick-and-mortar grocery store that's really meant for the community," said Village Farmstand owner Matt Wechsler.
A documentary filmmaker, Wechsler knew a lot of farmers looking for ways to keep selling their goods.
"This was a network of farms in Central Illinois that primarily sold to restaurants in the city. That was their bread and butter for 17 years. With all of these restaurants shutting down it really made it difficult for them and it's a way for these farmers to really grow their businesses," he said.
Eggs from downstate Fairbury; Kilgus Farmstead cream and milk; feta cheese from Prairie Fruits Farm near Champaign. And not just dairy items, but fresh produce from all over the region, plus lamb and beef, or in this case, breakfast sausage from Gunthorp Farms in La Grange, Indiana.
Wechsler says his partner farms' business was up almost 40% in 2020, thanks to businesses like his.
"We both are on the same page. We love local, artisanal ingredients and we care about what we're doing," said Dario Monni.
Monni owns Tortello, an artisan pasta shop in Wicker Park, where pasta makers spend much of the day parked in front of the wide, front window, making all of the pastas by hand. With no indoor dining and no patio seating in the winter, it's take-out only, but he's having Wechsler carry some of his products as well.
"What I care most is I give my pasta to people that love to carry my product. Because at the end of the day it's important to expand but you don't have to lose the soul," he said.
"They make amazing pasta that has no preservatives in it. It's a fresh pasta. They also do great pasta sauces and they're making frozen pasta for us too," said Wechsler.
Village Farmstand also delivers, so you don't have to live in Evanston to shop local. You can just walk in to buy something, but you'll save a lot of time if you just order ahead online before picking up.
810 Dempster St., Evanston
1746 W. Division St.
Evanston's Village Farmstand connects food producers with consumers