By 9 a.m. Thursday morning, three canvas bags overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables hung from Lorraine Bakaitis’ walker. A Chicago resident who calls Weiss her “second home,” Bakaitis had come to the hospital on Thursday not for an appointment, but for the Uptown Farmers Market.
“I love farmers markets and fresh food,” she said. This particular market, held in the Weiss parking lot, convened for the first time on June 24. It is the Uptown neighborhood’s first farmers market.
Weiss administrators decided to host the market in order to bring the ideas behind “Health for Life,” the hospital’s new initiative, to the community. Health for Life operates under the idea that maintaining key health factors (such as body mass index, blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, exercise and diet) will lead to a healthy life.Terry Tuohy, director of volunteer services at Weiss, led the charge in finding a way to bring the idea to life. “What could we do to get thinking outside the box?” she said. Before long, she had found an answer: “Being healthy starts with food.”
The team planned to turn Weiss’ parking garage roof into a garden and host a farmer’s market. Tuohy went to the neighborhood’s alderman, Helen Shiller, to share the plans. And Shiller recommended gardeners to help maintain the rooftop.
Jed Schenkier, one of the gardeners, works a fulltime job and spends his evenings on the rooftop watering and weeding the spinach, arugula and kale growing in 8-foot-by-2-foot boxes along the perimeter.
“All you need is good soil and plenty of water,” he said. Along with Will Pool and Donna Buyer, Schenkier started the garden about a month and a half before the first farmers market. By opening day, they had piles of leafy greens for sale.
Among the offerings from the other booths: peas, onions, beets, lettuce, broccoli, radishes, berries and cherries. The city supplied the list of potential farmer's and food businesses, and originally three booths were scheduled for opening day. By the time the day arrived, five more had signed on. The number of vendors has continued to increase, thanks to strong sales each week. Bread, fresh-cut flowers, cheeses and jams are all for sale at the market now.
“I hope they all sell out,” Tuohy said, as she walked from booth to booth buying heaps of fresh produce for a weekend party. “I want this to grow. I want it to become a staple of the neighborhood.”
And because diabetes has grown to epidemic proportions in the United States (an estimated 57 million people are pre-diabetic, the condition before type 2 diabetes), Tuohy plans to fight the disease by reaching out to children.
“If we want to stop diabetes, it starts with education,” she said.
She hopes to arrange for children from the Chicago Park District camps to come to the market to learn about fresh fruits and vegetables. “I want to buy them all peaches, so they can taste real peaches,” she said.
Before leaving, Bakaitis had one more stop to make: the Farm Fresh Food Stuffs stand. She made her way through the people crowded around it, and peered at the organic eggs, chicken, ribs, sausage and cheese on display—all hormone- and antibiotic-free.
“Free-range eggs—there’s nothing like them in this world. Once you’ve had them, if you can’t get them again, you’ll be in tears,” she said.
That, however, shouldn’t be a problem this summer.
The Uptown Farmers Market runs every Thursday through Oct. 28, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.