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With the pool open, the schools out, engines revving for Cruise Night, and Summer Fest come and gone, summer is definitely in full swing in Forest Park. But much as I’ve been enjoying the sun, I’m still waiting for the start of something I love even more than the giant slide at Summer Fest and the water slides at the pool (and I really love slides, so that’s saying a lot). Today may be the solstice, but for me, summer will officially begin this Friday at 3:30 p.m. when the Forest Park Farmers Market opens at The Grove, 7824 W. Madison St.

In case you didn’t make it out last year, The Grove is the perfect spot for our market: a gorgeous green space to buy fresh, locally-grown food with picnic tables to sit and enjoy whatever the Farmers Market Grille is cooking up (proceeds benefiting the Forest Park Food Pantry), a moon jump for the kids, and music for everyone. Opening day will feature entertainment by Whitey O’Day and his one man band and giveaways from Live Healthy Forest Park.

When I contacted Denise Murray and Karen Dylewski about the market, I was thrilled to learn that Kap Farms will be bringing back the produce I feasted on last summer and so will Twin Gardens, grower of what is literally the most delicious sweet corn ever. Another returning favorite of mine is St. Honore Confections, maker of some of the best vegan treats I’ve tasted. Non-vegans will love them, too; just ask my husband or mother. They have wonderful gluten-free baked goods as well.

For you meat and dairy lovers, Jake’s Country Meats, one of the most popular vendors from the market’s first year will return, and Ludwig Farm Creamery Raw Milk cheeses is a new addition.

“I’m not sure if I am more excited about Jake’s Wheel Havarti or the triple cream blue cheese,” Denise told me.

The newcomer I can’t wait to check out is Purple Leaf Farms, the most local of the local produce, grown by Forest Parker Jessica Rinks on her mini-farm behind Altenheim. As of right now, Jessica says she has about 85 percent of 12,000-square-foot space planted and a drip-irrigation system installed to keep it watered. When I asked what she might have on opening day, she told me, “Hopefully I’ll have some radishes, mustard greens, and chard, but since the project got such a late start, pickings on the first market day will be slim.”

She’ll be caught up with other local producers by the time summer harvests really get going, though, and will have the “typical crowd pleasers” like tomatoes, squash, peppers and cucumbers as well as “more obscure stuff such as Shiso, a favorite herb of mine. It’s like an Asian version of basil.” She will also have some CSA shares available, which you can learn more about on her website, www.forestparkminifarm.com.

In addition to fabulous, locally-grown food, the Farmers Market has hosted local animal rescue organizations, which it will continue to do this summer. This year they will also be collecting bicycles – working or not – at the market and the Community Center.

“These bikes will be fixed up and donated to people,” said Karen, who is working with Police Chief Ryan to find the best place to make the donations.

This is why I love the Forest Park Farmers Market even more than slides. Not only does it provide a source of healthy food, but it’s helping to shape Forest Park into an even healthier community. Check it out every Friday from 3:30 to 7 p.m. through Oct. 5.

Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.