By Jenna Shelton
I don’t know about many of you, but when I was a kid I either loved or absolutely hated the farmers’ markets and there was no in-between at all! Depending on the weekend and which vendors were there, I could find treasures and treats that I would hide from my two sisters since they often didn’t come to market with my parents and I. On a bad weekend though, I would pout and stomp around if my parents wouldn’t carry me, absolutely determined to never come back again.
Now as an adult I find immense humor in the fact that I now have a daughter who is exactly the same as I was when it comes to weekend markets. One such market that I often make time for on a weekly basis is the Alton Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market that is held every Saturday morning – rain or shine – from 8 a.m. to noon at 501 Landmarks Blvd., Alton, IL, 62002.
It is normally held every year from May until October, with an additional Night Market offered on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Unfortunately, this year COVID-19 threw a wrench in normal plans and the Wednesday markets are not open, but never fear dear reader, the non-profit group Alton Main Street that normally hosts the market got to work to come up with inventive ways to allow consumers to shop and vendors the opportunity to continue to earn an income.
Initially, they came up with a drive-thru type plan that involved the vendors allowing pre-orders online along with paying online, and then the customers could literally drive through the market and pick up their order. Once the restrictions started to ease, they phased into allowing the market to work in the traditional sense with booths spread out along with other significant changes that allow everyone to stay as safe and healthy as possible.
Another thing that I treasure now that I am an adult is the fact that I am helping small, local businesses and vendors, as one must grow or make any item sold at this market. So no, there will not be any Scentsy, but if you are looking for something like that I have a person!
What you will find is the nectar of the gods in both coffee form and honey form. I literally cannot survive without my daily Bunkhouse Joe’s infusion and thank goodness they are always there to stock me up every week. There are a couple of different vendors that offer locally sourced honey which is great if you’re like me and allergic to everything outside. A little trick to help with outdoor allergies is to have a bit of local honey in order to build a tolerance to those pesky little allergens.
Locally grown fruits, vegetables, basically any kind of produce you can imagine are sold along with pastries, loaves of bread, meats, macaroons, smoked pretzels and non-edible items like renin or wood artwork, paintings and other items that can be handmade. Not only are you helping local artists and farmers continue their profession, some of which have been in business for decades, but by shopping at the market, you help those who have government benefits like food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, Children) provide fresh produce at a great deal.
Yes, you read that correctly, those who have EBT Food Stamps can use them at the market. Not only that but they get a grant from the government and for every dollar that someone uses on their EBT, they get a free dollar back up to $25 per day. So basically you get $50 to use at the market but are only charged $25 on your food stamp card! This “money” to spend is traditionally little wood chips or special pieces of paper and cannot be used anywhere else but can be saved to use the next time you come so you don’t have to spend it all in one trip.
With the price of produce, especially for organic, which is easily found at this market, that is a great opportunity. Especially for those who are in need of making sure that their EBT benefits last without having to buy the preservative-filled processed junk foods that are priced just right and makes it easy to make those EBT bucks last.