Farmers' market to open Friday in Forest Park

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Since the French Market sputtered to a close in October 2007, Forest Parkers have had no village access to vendor-direct fresh produce. That's about to change this week as the Forest Park Farmers' Market debuts Friday in the parking lot of the Mohr Community Center. This time the hours - 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. every other Friday - won't mean competition with the Oak Park Farmers' Market, the nearby Saturday morning institution 2 miles away. That was one factor that had undermined the French Market, says Kim Zandstra, the volunteer organizing the new farmers' market. Zandstra says the Friday-evening option will fill a niche for people whose weekend mornings are booked with errands and children's sports activities.

"People are telling me, 'Oh, that's cool. I can come right after work,'" she says. Zandstra's hoping to turn the market into a destination for family outings. "We'll have free family activities, cooking demos," she says.

Eighteen vendors from Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin have signed on to set up shop. Along with the usual fruits, veggies and fresh flowers found commonly at farmers' markets, vendors here will also offer meat and fish, organic tomato sauce and salsas, ice cream, specialty caramel corn, dog treats, breads, honey, hot sauces and skin care products. Zandstra, a self-professed farmers' market junkie, haunts regional markets year-round - even indoor ones during the winter. She approached vendors she knew and tried to get what she calls a good mix of participants. It was the vendors themselves who suggested a weekday evening timeslot. "The quality vendors are already participating in other markets on Saturday and Sunday," Zandstra points out.

She's encouraged that 25 people showed up at the Forest Park library last Wednesday night for a screening of Fresh, a documentary about the locavore movement.

In keeping with the idea of giving more people access to fresh and local foods, Zandstra has written vendors' contracts so they agree to provide $10 worth of fresh food every week to the Community Education Food Pantry.

"The food pantry struggles with a lack of fresh food. I thought at least during the season, we could give people access to the fresh food," Zandstra says.

At Friday's debut market, there will be a composting and rain-barrel gardening demonstration by Isaac Sinnott, the young Oak Park rain barrel entrepreneur. Sinnott, when a student at Oak Park and River Forest High School, started a business called Greener Garden with his signature barrels. He's sold more than 1,200 of these rain barrels. through his Greener Garden business. The college student now is offering compost tumblers.

Every booth will have food except for the one manned by David Nells, known as the knife sharpening guy, and the one called Blissful Botanica, which is run by Forest Park soapmaker Alane Eisenbrandt. Her five-year-old company sells handcrafted soaps and skincare products.

A transplant from Highland Ranch, Colo., Eisenbrandt appreciates Forest Park's camaraderie of small business owners. "It feels like I live in a community instead of the vast suburbs," she says.

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