Looking for something fun to do with the family that won’t break the bank? Have you tried going to your local farmer’s market (sometimes also called a French Market)? We did this weekend and were pleasantly surprised at what we found. Most people tend to drive to these events and ample parking is available, but we made a day of it- jumping on the bikes and taking a leisurely ride through the scenic Fox River Valley to what has become our favorite French Market- the Geneva farmers market (see links below for Geneva and Batavia Farmer’s markets). It is held every Sunday from about April through early November. The market is outdoors come rain or shine and opens at 8 am. Unlike Flea Markets, there is no entry fee and the smells and sights are free so you can spend as little or as much money as you want. In addition to a sea of fresh vegetables you will also find raw honey, fresh cut flowers, anything yummy and baked, roasted seasoned nuts, amazing fresh fruit, handmade sausage and meats, jellies, salsas, chutneys, handmade jewelry, hand decorated hats, homemade soaps and cosmetics, and the list goes on and on. So far, out or all this abundance, I have discovered three favorite finds. FYI, I rank my favorite finds based on affordability, uniqueness, and quality of product.
The first is my new ‘Jelly Lady’.- Chez De Chapae. I’m not even kidding here- her jelly is the BEST I have ever tasted. And I have tasted a lot of home made jellies ranging all the way from my own to my sister in law’s (Yes, our very own talented Kate of Kate’s Kupcakes- PLEASE check her out on Facebook if you need custom crafted cupcakes, cookies, or cakes- she is a cross between a bakery goddess and a food artist! She can and will make anything to fit any theme or special event and your taste buds will be delighted….but I digress). Yes, this lady even put my very talented sister in law to shame. I give her five stars for quality of product. She wasn’t kidding when she said ‘you won’t just like this jelly, you will LOVE it’. So far, I have cracked open the Cherry and the flavor is distinct- very cherry with a hint of chocolate. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and it is well jelled. I know a lot of armature jelly makers can wind up with some runny slop that’s more like syrup than jelly. Believe me-this is NOT the case. I would also give five stars for uniqueness. Her line of products was vast- ranging all the way from traditional jams to chutneys to reduced sugar/fully organic jellies. She offered flavors I had never seen before like ‘Strawberry lemonade’ and a line of zesty adult jellies with a tiny hint of alcohol such as ‘bloood orange and plum sangria’. As for price, not bad- three jars for twenty was her special this last Sunday. A tad pricey if you are used to buying Smuckers for $1.75 a jar……but, well, just remember you get what you pay for. Smuckers is all well and good for your kid’s PB and J, but I’m telling you- save the Chez De Chapae for mommy’s book club night or a really unique and amazing Christmas gift for that foody friend that has everything.
My next find is the ‘Soap Guy’. Certainly not a soap that would appeal to adults too much. It’s pretty much just a clear glycerin soap base, but the genius lies in the five star presentation that totally appeals to kids. Inside each bar he has inserted a themed rubber ducky or finger puppet. This man makes every theme from turkey’s for thanksgiving to super heroes to tooth fairies to pirates to sharks. If you are looking for a unique baby shower gift or possibly a party favor for a baby shower or kids birthday this is your man! Or, if you are a ‘theme super freak mom’ like myself and you give your kids themed holiday baths (yes, I will try ANYTHING to get them motivated to get in the tub) his soaps make a nice addition and gets them excited to get clean. As far as price- I would say very affordable. $3.50/bar is definitely more than your old school Dial bar soap, but let’s face it- no kid ever got excited to take a bath with Dial.
My final farmer’s market find was super fun and super unique. She is a lady that combines recycling and art into some really cute jewelry. She takes recycled pictures and laminates them. Then she attaches a snap to the back that corresponds to a matching snap mounted on either a necklace or bracelet so you can mix and match and customize your jewelry to suit your mood or your outfit or even what holiday it is. I got necklaces for my kids and their friends and they LOVED them. Definitely five stars for uniqueness- I have NEVER seen anything like them before. Five stars for quality as well. Her stuff is super durable- my three year old has not been able to destroy it yet and I often joke with my husband that his middle name should have been ‘Mess’. Not bad on price either. A necklace and the first ‘button’ is $10.00 and each additional button runs about $5.00. Last Sunday she was running ‘buy five buttons and get the sixth one free’ so we scored a pretty good deal.
Apart from all the really unique products we discovered this past weekend, I found the thing that I loved the most about farmer’s markets is actually the vendors. I loved the ‘old school’ atmosphere of just the booth and the vendor running it- no corporate Walmart middleman. You got to know the ‘person behind the product’. You felt respected and valued as a customer. You got a warm and genuine hello and a sales pitch that dripped with knowledge of the product inside and out from a person that loved their products so much they genuinely wanted you to love and enjoy them that much too. So as you embark on your summer adventures this year remember to enjoy shopping local at your neighborhood farmers market!