The opening of Valli Produce in Evanston Plaza and another Whole Foods on Green Bay Road underscores the many in-town options for spending food dollars. The RoundTable’s July 30 editorial “Food, Glorious Food”  also provides an inventory of the many locations where Dominick’s stores used to be.

Real estate is the subtext for another food trend
worth consideration. Taking shape are community development forces that will likely influence future growth patterns in the ever-changing Evanston landscape.

Consider the downtown parcel occupied by Bravo, Uncle Dan’s, Cost Plus and Cinemark Theaters.  Forty years ago, this Maple/Church location was home to a Dominick’s. The management fought efforts by a City commission and Chamber of Commerce to establish a farmers market on Benson Avenue.

So says one of the dozen vendors who helped launch the market in 1975.  His name is Roy Elko, owner of Elko Produce in Cambria, Wis.

Mr. Elko is the last of those original farmers selling at our market. That first Saturday, he recalls, an unexpectedly large turnout prompted one vendor’s return to his nearby farm to replenish his stock.

In 1975, the Evanston market was one of about 300 nationwide.  Today, Illinois alone has more than 300 markets.   

Smaller spin-offs are popping up around town: Tuesdays 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the YMCA, 1000 Grove St.; Wednesday afternoons 3:30-7 p.m. at the Ridgeville Park District, 908 Seward St.; and Saturday mornings all winter, inside the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd. 

Our Saturday outdoor market is a community anchor.  Each week thousands of people turn out at its current location – a Northwestern-owned parking lot at Oak Avenue and University Place.

On July 25, I continued on to a second shopping stop at Church Street and Chicago Avenue. The Whole Foods cashier said Saturday mornings are always slow because of the outdoor market. This 20-something was surprised when I told her that fear of competition once caused a grocery store to oppose the farmers market. 

On Aug. 1, while buying cheese curds from Roy Elko, I spoke of my conversation at Whole Foods the previous Saturday. Over the last 40 years, his livelihood has reflected a response to the sea change in consumer habits. Grocery chains now clamor to supply the type of food
that used to be available only at farmers’ markets.

Across from the Elko stand is a vendor named Gareth Proctor. I buy this Evanston native’s micro-greens.

 Mr. Proctor owns Endless Greens – an “urban” farm and sustainability company. He also teaches gardening through a farm-to-table program that began three years ago at the Ridgeville Park District.

Community demand for such things helps explain the City Council’s adoption of three farm-friendly ordinances last summer.  Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl says she envisions these laws as a starting point for a “framework to support … a thriving food system.”

There is now a lot of buzz about “urban” agriculture.  The “urban” descriptor will likely vanish as food production becomes more commonplace in backyards, front yards and publicly owned land.  

After all, agriculture is agriculture.  That is so whether it is on Roy Elko’s farm three hours away in “rural” Wisconsin or Gareth Proctor’s, several blocks from the RoundTable’s office.

Mr. Proctor’s mother, Vikki Proctor, is president of the four-year-old non-profit organization Friends of the Evanston Farmers Market. This all-volunteer group’s programs support the City-run market but has limited ability to address long-term challenges. Ms. Proctor says there is work to do to instill the next generation with a deeper appreciation of healthy food, nutrition and agriculture.

The importance of new employment opportunities is reflected in the RoundTable’s July 30 news coverage. Alderman Peter Braithwaite reports 85 percent of Valli Produce’s 120 hires are Evanston residents. A Whole Foods  spokesperson says Evanston residents comprise 54 of the new store’s 220 employees.

Neighborhood-based agriculture can create homegrown jobs and businesses, while generating new tax revenues. Missing, however, is a comprehensive civic effort to promote a “good food” economy that’s healthy for the body, green for the planet, fair for farmers and workers, and affordable for all.

Many Evanston stakeholders participate in a Cradle to Career collective impact agenda on social services. The time is ripe for a complementary collective impact agenda on social enterprise. A Cradle to Career healthy food, nutrition and agriculture program could do much to help revitalize the grassroots foundation of our economy.

Mr. Heuer  chaired or co-chaired the Dist. 65/202 Legislative Task Force from 2004 to 2011.  He served on behalf of Evanston schools as a gubernatorial appointee to the Illinois Local Food Farms and Jobs Council from 2009 to 2014