September 1, 2017

Presidential Center Farmers Market May Threaten Existing Events

Organizers of the 61st Street Farmers Market are concerned that a rumored farmers market at the Obama Presidential Center could threaten their own.  

Hyde Park is primarily serviced by two weekly farmers markets: the 61st Street Farmers Market, held Saturdays at the Experimental Station, and the Hyde Park Farmers Market, which takes place on Thursdays on 53rd Street.  The center has not officially announced that it will open a rival market, but the prospect has been discussed at previous community meetings.

According to Connie Spreen, executive director of the Experimental Station, a third market in the area could spread the customer base too thin and would force farmers to sell at multiple locations, raising overhead costs.

Mint Creek Farm concurred in an e-mail to The Maroon. “We barely break even at the 61st St. Market and we do not need to lose customers from there to another nearby market,” Sales Manager Raya Carr wrote. “More markets means making us farmers work harder and losing money between all the overhead costs of direct marketing logistics, staffing, and distribution between many slow markets rather than a few concentrated busier ones.”

The Obama Foundation told The Maroon in an e-mail that the center, which will be located in Jackson Park, will “include different types of community space.”

“The possibility of a farmers market is one of many ideas that has been considered. If the idea were to move forward, we would work collaboratively with organizers of other farmer’s markets in the area to ensure a farmers market at the OPC bolsters what is already being done at the other beloved markets in our neighborhood,” a spokesperson for the foundation wrote.

Both Mint Creek Farm and the Experimental Station said they would welcome involvement from the center, if it meant supporting local markets rather than a new one. Spreen wrote that the 61st Street Farmers Market’s goal of bringing healthy, affordable food to the South Side closely aligns with the goals of the Obama Presidential Center.

The Hyde Park Farmers Market, sponsored by the Southeast Chicago Commission (SECC), is less concerned about the competition. “There’s enough business for all of us,” SECC spokesperson Eric Reaves wrote in a statement to The Maroon. According to Reaves, as long as the Presidential Center market would sell primarily to tourists rather than permanent residents, there would not be a problem. 

Any new market will take some time to start up, as the center is not scheduled to be finished until 2021. In the meantime, the Obama Foundation has promised to continue holding forums and discussing potential developments, including a farmers market, with the community.