Market Watch: Season opener, May 2022: Food and drink: Smile politely


Outdoor Farmers Markets are returning to Champaign-Urbana this month, and I’m so excited for this year’s markets. This is my third year covering Champaign-Urbana outdoor farmers markets. The 2020 market season was at the height of the pandemic: wearing a mask was compulsory, eating was forbidden and the markets were one-way. Markets last year relaxed requirements so shoppers could walk around the market without a mask.

This year’s Farmer’s Market season begins tomorrow, Saturday May 7th. Urbana Market in the square will have many market favorites such as Sola Gratia, Blue Moon Farm, Stango Cuisine, and more. The Champaign Farmers’ Market hosted by The Land Connection will open in two weeks on May 17 – and will have a Mutt of the Week award with a dog treat prize. If you’re new to Smile Politely, this Market Watch column will run monthly and highlight foods and vendors you can find in both markets.

So what can CU expect in overseas markets this year? Lots of fresh produce, street food, new vendors, food trucks, and more.

In the Lincoln Square Mall parking lot, the Square's Urbana Market is open for outdoor shopping.  A blue tent selling baked goods has a line of masked white shoppers in front of a table covered in a blue and white checkered tablecloth.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Urbana market in the square opens every Saturday morning, rain or shine, from 7 a.m. to noon. Parking is plentiful and there are over 50 vendors in this market. Farmers, bakers and more fill the parking lot with produce and good food to buy. It really is a fun way to spend a Saturday morning: walking around the market browsing all the options. If I ever have out of town visitors this is a must to get out of the house – and score a delicious breakfast.

On a folding table, there are herbs for planting in small black containers arranged inside a large gray tray.  The sign says herbs are all $3 except fresh lavender, rosemary, or tarragon.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Many vendors sell herbs ready to plant in your garden. Consider trying a new-to-you spice like chocolate mint or a favorite like basil. This is my absolute favorite thing to buy when the markets open. I love the selection and friendly farmers at Meyer Produce (have you seen their Instagram?), and they sell plants in sizes small enough for my garden pot. I usually buy basil, rosemary and anything that looks delicious. The chives I planted last year are still going strong, so I won’t need chives, but I will need more herbs to plant for my garden. If you don’t have a garden, these plantable herbs are a great way to start one.

On a table with a light blue tablecloth, there are fresh vegetables for sale in square plastic containers.  Most of the vegetables in the photo are okra.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Starting May 17, Champaign Market opens every Tuesday afternoon from 3-6 p.m. in downtown Champaign in parking lot M. It’s smaller than Urbana Market, but you can buy locally grown food , flowers, bread, pastries, honey and more. . Find Cloud Mountain Kombucha, Urbana’s award-winning kombucha brewing company, at the Tuesday Market this season. If you haven’t tried any ‘buch from Cloud Mountain, you’re missing out. Non-alcoholic fermented tea comes in a variety of flavors, and I liked every flavor I tried.

The Champaign Farmers’ Market allows dogs on a leash and will choose a Market Mutt of the week each Tuesday. The chosen dog will win dog treats from Pura Vida Pets, and the dog’s mug will be posted on The Land Connection’s social media.

At Urbana Market in the square, a farmer stands idly by behind tables of produce for sale.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Vendors accept cash, cards, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). If you’re using a LINK card, stop by the information booth to learn more about using LINK benefits at the market. You can also check out Tias’ helpful step-by-step guide to using your p-ebt card at CU Farmers Markets.

In a yellow plastic bin are Illinois grown cucumbers for sale.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Bring your reusable bag and buy Illinois-grown vegetables. As the market season continues, more products and more variety will become available. This month, look for vegetables like leafy greens, herbs, cucumbers, rhubarb, asparagus, and hydroponic tomatoes.

An aerial photo shows giant buckets of Illinois-grown strawberries next to a few small blue square containers of strawberries for sale.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

And fruit! I love seeing strawberries in the markets because my kids love fruit. The locally grown berries are smaller than the ones from the grocery store, but they are so tasty.

In the Lincoln Square parking lot at the Urbana Market Square, there is a Burrito King food truck with no line.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

There are also food trucks at Urbana Market in the square. This month, find Burrito King, Piato To Go and La Paloma. All are fantastic options for hot dishes. Trucks offer breakfast and lunch options on the menu. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for eggs, and the friendly burrito makers at Burrito King make a lunch burrito (without scrambled eggs) even at 7:30 in the morning. Just ask nicely!

In the M parking lot in downtown Champaign, the Farmer's Market is busy with shoppers.  There is a blue tent with a sign saying Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Champaign Farmers’ Market has kits for kids that include ingredients, a recipe card, and a link to a video showing how to make it. There will be more programs coming to the Champaign market this year, including yoga and children’s yoga, 4-H activities and community group events.

What’s on my list to buy on my first visit to the market? Here are three vendors to check out at Urbana Market.

At Urbana Market in the square, there is a coffeeshop on wheels and two white men working under a blue tent.  One pours a cold brew into a plastic cup.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The first thing I like to do on Saturday mornings at the market is visit the Nitro Cup. This CU coffeeshop on wheels sells amazing cold brew coffee. Strolling through the market with a cold brew in hand is such a lovely summer vibe. Try a single cup or stock up for the week with a large glass jar of cold brew from Nitro Cup.

There's a white Prairie Fruits Farm tent at the Urbana Market Square with a giant poster of a goat.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

A popular vendor to check out is Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery. They make some damn good cheese. The Fleur de la Prairie and the Pelota Roja both won a Good Food Award. The award-winning cheese factory sells these specialty cheeses and more. The goat cheese is fantastic and the ice cream too.

In the Urbana Market parking lot in the square, there is a black sign with the names of the baked goods and the prices neatly written in white chalk.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

One of my new favorite market vendors is Six Red Chairs Bakery. The prices are great and the pastries are even better. Try it kouign Amann which looks like a croissant but with sugar. I wrote more about Six Red Chairs’ kouign Amann in the July Market Watch of last year, and I’ve been waiting all year to get one again.

In the parking lot of Lincoln Square Mall, shoppers move away from the camera in the aisles of Urbana Market.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Urbana Market at Square Infos

The Urbana Market has been in continuous operation since 1979. The market runs from May 7 to October 29, every Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine. It is located at the corner of Illinois and Vine in Urbana.

Payment methods : Cash, credit, debit or SNAP.

SNAP/LINK: Vendors selling LINK-eligible foods accept LINK tokens. Please visit Urbana’s Market at the Square website for details, or the on-site information tent.

Car park: Free parking is available in the parking lots surrounding Lincoln Square Mall and the lot south of Illinois Street. Bike parking is also available at the entrances to the mall and in the bike corral area after entering the market off Illinois.

Pets: Pets are not allowed. Thank you for respecting the rules of the market and leaving your doggie at home.

Social media: You can follow the Market on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sign up here to receive weekly market emails.

With blue skies above, there is the Champagne Farmers Market with tents set up with vendors.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Land Connection Champagne Growers Market

The Land Connection Champagne Farmers Market is in its seventh year. The Champaign Market is open on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. from May 17. The Champaign Farmers Market will be held in the M parking lot in downtown Champaign in Neil and Washington.

Forms of payment: Pre-order, cash, credit cards, debit cards or SNAP/EBT cards.

SNAP/LINK: All eligible providers accept SNAP benefits through the LINK token program. Please visit The Land Connection website for more details.

Car park: Metered parking is available in the M parking lot or on the Hill Street parking deck.

Pets: Dogs on a leash are welcome.

Social media: Follow The Earth Connection on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram, or see the website for more information.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.


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