The Hatch-Palucks, Week 31: A Locavore's Dream

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

blueberries picture

We get fresh berries at least a month earlier in Illinois than we did back east, and we can barely get them home from the farmer's market without eating them all. Credit: Amy Hatch

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

And no, not Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year in Urbana, Illinois, is May, when the Market at the Square opens for the season.

I've always been a fan of the open-air market, and Rochester, N.Y., the city I was born in and left behind to relocate in Illinois, just happens to have the oldest public market in the nation. I loved walking through the aisles and aisles of vendors at the Rochester Public Market every weekend, and I knew I would miss it dearly when we settled here on the prairie.

Then, shortly after we moved into our house in August 2006, I discovered the Market at the Square and thus began a love affair that lasts from May to November, with a lot of unrequited longing happening during the months in between. For me these days, the Rochester Public Market, while still a beloved memory, pales in comparison.

We always tend to eat better in the warmer months to begin with, but the market makes it even easier for us to consume copious amounts of whole foods -- as opposed to the heavy, processed meals that we gravitate toward during the winter months (not to mention all the road food we consume when we're on our crazy holiday trip).

Urbana's Market at the Square is a locavore's dream. The fresh food sold there comes from within a 100-mile radius, and ranges from greens and lettuces to the most incredible goat cheese you've ever tasted. I have to make sure my son, Henry's, stroller is more than an arm's length away from the table belonging to one vendor who sells gorgeous, plump heirloom tomatoes -- more than once my child has grabbed one and helped himself to a great, big bite!


We visit the market every Saturday during the season and come home with bags bulging with berries, green beans picked that same morning and those tomatoes Henry finds so irresistible. While I still occasionally grumble about missing the northeast, my complaints are less likely to be heard during late May and early June, when I'm eating fresh blueberries and strawberries by the fistful while the my family back east waits for picking season to arrive in July.

This year, the market opened on May 7, and while a lot of produce isn't available yet due to the fickle spring weather here in Illinois, we are able to get some kale, which I've been wanting to try out. I hear that roasted kale chips make a great snack, and we're in dire need of something healthy to crunch on that also satisfies our Pringles craving.

We can also get great whole-grain breads and pastas made with whole-wheat flour, as well as Amish jams and jellies made without high-fructose corn syrup. I know there is a grand debate going on about the fact that HFCS may be exactly the same as cane sugar when it comes to our health, but the mom in me feels better about feeding my kids foods that don't come out of a machine.

We can even get treats for the kids that are healthier -- a vendor at the market sells plastic-bag cones of chewy candy bears, made with fruit juice instead of sugar. "Juicy Bears" are a highlight of our trip each week, and one bag (for just $1!) lasts the whole week.

Even without trying, I tend to shed at least three pounds every summer, between being more active outdoors and eating better, thanks to our grill and the Market at the Square. This summer?

I bet I double that.

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