On the lookout for “Signature Ingredients” at the Old Capitol Farmers Market

Managing the Old Capitol Farmers Market in Springfield not only gives Illinois Stewardship Alliance the opportunity to serve our community in Springfield and keep our finger on the pulse of local food and farm barriers and opportunities, but it also gives us the opportunity to test new ideas and programs and tackle some of the biggest issues facing farmers and farmers markets.

One often-voiced concern from farmers is that shoppers at the market spend more money with food trucks and bakeries rather than purchasing groceries. If you come to the Market with a fixed budget each week, you might be tempted to spend a large portion of that budget on breakfast tacos. And who wouldn’t? Breakfast tacos are delicious! But it’s hard for a farmer to compete! So what’s a Market to do?

To tackle this issue, this year we developed a new “Signature Ingredient Program” to help build connections between farmers and small businesses, increasing purchasing of local ingredients, and help shoppers find the freshest, seasonal eats.

Here’s how it works: 

This year we asked each prepared food vendor (food trucks, bakeries, etc.) to commit to purchasing and highlighting at least one local ingredient on their menu each week– the “signature ingredient.”

The signature ingredient could be anything from local eggs in a breakfast sandwich, to farm-fresh blueberries in muffins, to perfectly ripe tomatoes tucked into a taco.

To make it easy for shoppers to know what’s local on the menu, we’ve given all of our prepared food vendors a chalkboard sign to highlight their signature ingredients and the farms where they come from. Shoppers just need to look for the chalkboard sign next to each prepared food vendor to find the “signature ingredient” each week.

The program is voluntary, so to encourage our prepared food vendors to continue to participate in this program throughout the season, we highlight and advertise their “signature ingredients” on social media each week and encourage shoppers to look for these items.

Check out some of the signature items and ingredients that have already been featured below!

The Signature Ingredient Program helps insure that the prepared food vendors at the Market are also supporting local farmers and purchasing local ingredients…so instead of putting farmers and food vendors in competition with one another, they are now encouraged to work together. Farmers see increased sales, food vendors get fresh ingredients and increased marketing, and shoppers can make more informed decisions about which menu items they’d like to purchase and support.  It’s a win-win-win.

The Signature Ingredient Program is just one way in which we’re on the ground, helping to serve farmers and build local food systems in our community this year. We plan to take what we learn from this program and share it with farmers markets across the state. Until then, stay tuned for more “Signature Ingredients” at facebook.com/oldcapitolfarmersmarket

The Old Capitol Farmers Market is sponsored by HSHS St. John’s Hospital and provided by Downtown Springfield Inc. in cooperation with Illinois Stewardship Alliance and the Springfield Area Arts Council.