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Columnist
Libertyville's farmers market turns 28
By Lee Litas | Columnist
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Published: 7/8/2008 12:06 AM

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"The fight to save family farms isn't just about farmers. It's about making sure that there is a safe and healthy food supply for all of us. It's about jobs, from Main Street to Wall Street. It's about a better America," singer/songwriter Willie Nelson once noted, speaking from the heartland on a subject that touches each and every one of us.

Illinois has one of the largest farming communities in the land and, locally, markets like the Libertyville Farmers Market do what they can to support the efforts and keep American farmers from becoming extinct.

"A large part of Libertyville's goal is to keep not only our downtown merchants economically viable but also to support (local) vendors like this," said Randy Nelson, executive director for MainStreet Libertyville, a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to the economic development and historic preservation of Libertyville's historic downtown.

This year marks the 28th anniversary of the market, which traditionally starts on the Thursday after Father's Day and runs for 18 weeks through the third week in October. The venue's longevity and reputation for quality both in the variety of vendors and in the products they offer has earned it a serious reputation; one that even warrants a waiting list. Currently, there are more than 30 vendors hoping to get placement.

The market prides itself on being what is known as a "traditional farmers market," meaning that each and every vendor has to either grow, bake or make what they are selling. Nobody is allowed to buy something elsewhere and resell it, and the community is "self policing" when it comes to keeping true to this maxim.

With dedicated vendors like Bunny Senne, 60, this is not such a hard task. A fourth-generation farmer, Senne hails from Woodstock where she works some 340 acres of land growing everything from purple cauliflower to white and yellow carrots. Like many farmers, this year has been a particularly tough one for Senne, who lost nearly a quarter of her land to flooding.

"Please support the Illinois farmer. It's been a hard year; we've lost 93 acres under water and I know others have lost more. I know it's a little more effort to come (to a farmers market.) It's not like going to the Jewel where they have everything, but we bring you the freshest things that we can bring you," said Senne.

After four generations of farming, this is the end of the line for Senne's family trade, with perhaps only 5-10 years more before she retires. Of her six children, none wish to follow in the family business.

"They all have what they call 'real jobs, with real money.'"

Such trends are causing an understandable shortage in supply while the demands of a growing population keep increasing. The inevitable change over to mass-production and dubious benefits of genetically modified foods beg the question of what will become of our overall health and well-being once the farmers disappear.

"I know it's progress. There are a lot of genetically altered things, but I don't think it should be our food source," said Senne.

With the opportunities offered by farmers markets, the strength and conviction of such traditional farmers thankfully still rubs off and attracts new vendors like Jan and Leonard Sosinski, from Antioch. New to the market this year, they came to sell their homemade jams, jellies and flavored vinegars, all made with only domestically grown produce to keep the profits within the U.S. borders.

"I already love the people and the setting," said Jan Sosinski. "It's a family-friendly atmosphere, everybody knows everybody and it's really like a party," she said. Let's hope we keep the party going for a long time to come.

Lee A. Litas can be reached at lakecountylife@dailyherald.com.