By BRANDON LaCHANCE
MENDOTA – Every Saturday from the first Saturday in June until the second Saturday in October, Mendota witnesses something some towns will never see – a farmer’s market.
The Mendota Farmer’s Market has been on the east side of Main Street in downtown Mendota since 2002.
“We are at the peak of the season come August,” said Bryon Walters, who organizes the market and sells his Bryon’s Bees Prairie Wild Honey. “We have 20 vendors today (Aug. 27). We usually average 12-14, so we’re on the high side because garlic is in season, a variety of hot peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and just about anything that can be grown in Illinois can be found at the Mendota Farmer’s Market. There are only six or seven weeks left. We’re in a great, historical location downtown. We usually average between 250-400 visitors.”
Aug. 27 was a different vibe for the market.
The Monday before was the fire that burned down the building on the west side of Main Street, which is directly across from where the farmer’s market usually sets up shop.
With a portion of the street blocked off with caution tape, the vendor tables and trucks formed a U-shape in their normal parking lot area, actually on Main Street, and in front of the building that used to house Waterfalls and apartments.
“The community really appreciates the market. It’s really lively and colorful down here every Saturday morning, especially when we’re standing in front of the blight of a lost historic structure,” Walters said. “We want everyone to know that Mendota is still alive and kicking very well. We are in peak growing season. Customers can find really good value here. You can’t find any fresher food as some of the items were picked from the garden the very same Saturday morning.
“A lot of our vendors sell out of their homes or they have home stores. The farmer’s market is exceptional because it brings in a lot of visitors from in town and out of town (15-mile radius), which gets the word out about their product. It also helps the town of Mendota because after customers visit the market, they’ll spend money at other shops or businesses in town. The market gives a lot of exposure to the vendors and the community.”
The farmer’s market gave Jessica Dykstra an opportunity to meet the community.
Dykstra, her husband Alan, and their two sons (Michael, 7, and Gabriel, 4) moved to Mendota two years ago from Thomson, where they could see Iowa from their backyard.
Without knowing a single soul in Mendota, the market presented a perfect opportunity for Dykstra.
“The farmer’s market has been a huge success in terms of selling my teas and for meeting new friends. It’s been great to get support,” said Dykstra, who moved to Mendota when Alan went from farming in Thomson to working for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at Starved Rock State Park. “People like the teas and I get a lot of repeat customers.
“On the community end, I don’t know if I’d still want to be here if I didn’t have the farmer’s market. It’s been a great way to make friends and get connections other places. My family got involved in the Waltham Curling Club and I got involved in the Mendota Rotary Club through the farmer’s market. The Mendota Farmer’s Market has really been the catalyst of us feeling at home.”
Paul and Lisa Salander have been on Main Street every Saturday for the last 17 years.
They always offer sweet corn, potatoes, string beans, tomatoes, and peppers. However, if a customer asks for another item, Paul will say, “I’m open to grow anything.”
He’s grown melons – some good and some bad – strawberries in the spring and raspberries in July.
“Personally, I’ve always liked growing things. At least this way, I can get compensated for my time,” said Paul Salander, who has always lived in the Mendota area and currently resides in a home by Triumph with a Mendota address. “I haven’t looked really close at produce lately, but I think generally speaking, you get more bang for the buck at the farmer’s market.”
“It’s become a labor of love. It’s not that I’m looking to make a living with it. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy seeing the people, especially when you have regulars and you get to know them. When you can form a relationship with your customer, that’s when it’s fun.
“I think if I would have won the billion-dollar lotto a month or so ago, I would still be at the farmer’s market. It’s just fun to be there on Saturday morning.”
Walters believes the meet and greet type of atmosphere the Mendota Farmer’s Market presents to Dykstra, Salander, and all vendors is a large part of the market’s worth to the community.
Saturday’s from June to October bring people together and help people find valuable items created locally.
“We are thankful for the Mendota Police Department, Mendota officials, the Mendota Fire Department, and the streets and water department for helping us set up. We really appreciate their support,” said Walters. “Everyone is given credit for the Mendota Farmer’s Market.”
If you’re a creator or a grower and would like to become a vendor at the farmer’s market, contact Walters at (815) 252-9605, or message the Mendota Farmers Market Facebook page.