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posted: 8/9/2012 10:50 AM

Farmers market celebrates 100 years in Aurora

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  • Shoppers browse the Aurora Farmers Market during its 98th year in 2010. The market is celebrating its centennial Saturday with a ceremony at 10 a.m. in North River Street Park at River and Cedar streets.

       Shoppers browse the Aurora Farmers Market during its 98th year in 2010. The market is celebrating its centennial Saturday with a ceremony at 10 a.m. in North River Street Park at River and Cedar streets.
    PAUL MICHNA | Staff Photographer

  • Fresh produce has been for sale at the Aurora Farmers Market for the past 100 years, making it the longest continuously running market in the state.

       Fresh produce has been for sale at the Aurora Farmers Market for the past 100 years, making it the longest continuously running market in the state.
    PAUL MICHNA | Staff Photographer

  • The Aurora Farmers Market, which is celebrating its 100th year Saturday, has been accepting food stamps for the past few years.

       The Aurora Farmers Market, which is celebrating its 100th year Saturday, has been accepting food stamps for the past few years.
    PAUL MICHNA | Staff Photographer

 
 

One hundred years ago, Aurora reporters were busy previewing the city's first farmers market that would bring growers with "vegetables of all kinds, fruits, eggs, poultry (dressed and live), butter, cheese" to shoppers for a morning of commerce.

Clips from the 1912 Aurora Daily Beacon News archives show the market's opening day fell short of expectations. The first market, held Tuesday, April 2, 1912, brought only one farmer -- and he arrived much later than expected and without enough food to meet demand, according to archived articles.

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"That the producer was not in evidence is explained by the muddy condition of the roads and the inclemency of today's weather," said a story published that day.

Fast forward a century and that same farmers market has 45 vendors and a history as the longest continuously running market in the state. As the city celebrates its 175th anniversary, the Aurora Farmers Market is celebrating its centennial with a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at North River Street Park at River and Cedar streets.

"It is really quite an accomplishment when something goes on for 100 years," said John Jaros, executive director of the Aurora Historical Society. "Certain festivals come and go, but this market has stayed constant. To me, that kind of longevity is something to celebrate."

The celebration will include recognition by Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner of the Theis and Wiltse families, who have been providing fresh produce in Aurora since 1912, and remarks from Jaros about the market's history.

The market started before the widespread use of motorized vehicles. When farmers began using trucks, they sold produce directly from their truck beds, giving the market a different feel than it has now, Jaros said.

"When it started, the farmers actually brought their horse-drawn wagons," he said, which explains why muddy roads prevented farmers from making it to the inaugural event. "Now, it's a little more sophisticated where they set up a nice display and make it attractive to people."

The market has been held somewhere on River Street during most of its tenure, but also took place at the Aurora Transportation Center for a while. Its hours have become less slanted toward early risers as years have gone by.

"The market will be open from 5 o'clock in the morning until noon, offering housewives plenty of time to do their buying before dinner, and promptly at 12 o'clock the market master will order all sales stopped," one of the 1912 articles said.

It now runs from 7:30 a.m. to noon. The first 100 people to arrive Saturday will receive a 1912-era marketbasket. Free samplings of grilled sweet corn and heirloom tomato salsa will be available to all, along with market totes, vegetable scrubbers, house plants, tulip bulbs and bike checks.

The Kane County Farm Bureau, which also is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, will give a presentation documenting the major changes in agriculture over the past century, Steve Arnold, the bureau's manager said.

"The change from horsepower to mechanical power on farms has just been a huge change," Arnold said.

Development of infrastructure such as roads and bridges also has helped farmers transport their goods to market more easily now than in 1912 -- whether it be a local farmers market or the global market of international trade, Arnold said.

He said interest in farmers markets is on the rise, as more consumers want to know who grows their food, where it's grown and how. It's a sentiment that hearkens back to the time of the Aurora market's formation, when residents and farmers were invited to get together for an exchange of food, money and ideas.

"Mr. Farmer, come and get acquainted with our new idea and meet us personally, and we assure you that you will spend a profitable as well as a pleasant day," a 1912 preview article read. "To the citizens of the city of Aurora, be on hand to lend a helping hand to the new enterprise and meet the producer personally."

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