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Winter Market Warms up Portage Park

Winter is usually a time for people to stay inside and keep warm. But on the city’s northwest side, residents are braving the elements and enjoying fresh, organic produce at the same time at the Portage Park Farmers Market.

Babette Novak and Dirk Matthews, who created the Portage Park Farmers Market along with the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, say having farmers markets in all types of weather and in different seasons brings money into the economy and gets people involved.

“[It’s important to be involved in the neighborhood] because we are residents and homeowners and we want to help whatever way we can,” Novak said. “When we first moved here we thought the area needs a farmers market.”

The work Novak and Matthews do is put on display the last Saturday of each month — this month, on Feb. 27 — when they welcome vendors and residents to the market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This market is unlike the summer market; it’s a rare occasion that only a handful of Chicago’s residents get to enjoy because not every neighborhood has the funds or the power to have a winter market. But with the help of Friends of Portage Park, a neighborhood association, Novak and Matthews were able to start Portage Park’s first farmers market, which stretches the whole length of Portage Park on Irving Park Road.

The market, which began in October 2008 in conjunction with the annual Pumpkin Festival, differs from most others because it primarily features organic meats, poultry, eggs, cheeses, baked goods and more.

“We have a couple of produce vendors, but they’re greenhouse produce,” Novak said.

Taking care of the community isn’t always easy. Gerard Staniszewski, president of the Portage Park Neighborhood Association and supporter of the Portage Market, has to meet with local business owners and public officials to make sure the neighborhood is being taken care of. “It’s our job to take care of the community and care what happens in it,” said Staniszewski.

Even Staniszewski was surprised with how well the winter market was received.

“The numbers of attendees is good. Not as good as the summer, but you would expect that. And more vendors are taking part,” Staniszewski said. “I think it is great, it gets people out of the house.”

One of the greenhouse produce vendors, Tiny Greens, said winter markets aren’t typical, but they are glad to have people buying their products year-round.

“Most often the produce that I have found comes from cold storage. There are a few that have hot houses or raise produce ‘aquaponically’…We definitely have a niche market,” said Paula Jeremias of Tiny Greens.

“We wanted to start [a farmers market] as soon as we found out that there wasn’t one because we thought it would be great for the community,” Novak said. “When we started going to neighborhood meetings, we found out other people wanted one also.”

The winter market is welcomed by the residents in Portage Park because it gives them an alternative to standard grocery stores.

“We don’t have to buy the regular food from Jewel,” said Lizzy Nowak, a resident for over 18 years. “I like to have the organic meats and the fresh vegetables. It just feels right.”

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