Retiring from Homewood Farmers Market, Kate Duff reflects on rebuilding
After seven years and a near-total rebuilding of Homewood Farmers Market, Kate Duff plans to step down from her role as Market Manager at the end of the 2021 summer season.
Next year, the Homewood resident will also retire from her full-time job at the University of Chicago Press and return to her native Canada to be closer to her family. Right now, however, Duff is focused on his last summer of catering for visitors to the market.
When Duff moved to Homewood in 2005, she said the village had a small farmers market held in a local church parking lot. In 2009, Duff reunited with her friend and fellow gardener, Nancy Spiegel, to create Homewood Kitchen Gardens. They started selling the surplus from their home gardens, and this evolved into unique products and natural products.
In 2012, the market moved to the parking lot of the village hall complex. Homewood officials wanted to recreate the event as a French market and entered into a two-year contract with management company Bensidoun USA.
Around this time, Duff coordinated with Bensidoun as the village square market manager, and she said she witnessed the company’s struggle to engage vendors.
“Bensidoun runs the downtown Chicago Farmers Market, and its pool of vendors is mostly north and west of the city. They didn’t have vendors who traditionally came south, ”Duff said. “The market was limping, but he didn’t feel connected to the community. “
When his contract with Bensidoun ended in 2014, the village regained control of the farmer’s market and hired Duff as a manager. She said that a good working relationship with the village gave her the freedom to envision the market with local vendors, more amenities and a new attitude.
To begin with, Duff and the village staff decided that the market should be an integral part of the overall village events program, linking it to all the other activities that unite the community.
“There are different flavors of Farmers’ Markets – some are farmer driven; then there are the markets for gourmets; then there are farmers’ markets in place to tackle food deserts, ”Duff said.
“We wanted to have elements of all of this, but we saw the market primarily as a community event. We wanted it to be a place where you could shop, communicate with your neighbors, and be entertained.
In addition to featuring live music, Duff said the market still has space for local nonprofits to connect with local residents and build support.
Allisa Opyd, events and community relations manager for the Village of Homewood, said Duff took the initiative to recruit farmers to sell at the farmers market. All vendors are within 100 miles of Homewood, bringing in products from Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
“She’s taken the lead on how to get the farmers out there,” Opyd said. “It was the most important thing – having the integrity of a real farmers market. That’s what Kate was able to do.
Welcoming the market in times of crisis
The future of the farmer’s market felt threatened in the summer of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought events to an end across the region. Duff said she struggled to figure out how to safely host the Farmers’ Market, obeying the rules of the Cook County Public Health Department.
Prior to his work in publishing, Duff worked as an environmental research scientist. With a scientific background and what Opyd called his “methodical” nature, Duff coordinated a successful 2020 season, with the help of volunteers and a series of precautions.
“We weren’t even sure if we would have a summer market in 2020, but a lot of sellers were looking for it, and we were worried that if we didn’t have it, the sellers might not come back. Duff said.
“We did a supplier survey starting in 2020, and they had a good year. Attendance was down, but sales were not.
People viewed the market as a safe place to shop, Duff said. Although he lost “the navigators,” the market offered some local residents a way to purchase fresh produce in a controlled environment.
In addition to her work in the farmers market, Duff said she enjoys volunteering and has also served on the board of directors of the Irons Oaks Foundation. Her children, Meg and Will Doran, attended Flossmoor Montessori Academy and HF High School.
While running the Summer Farmers’ Market, Duff also launched the Homewood Indoor Winter Market and Wednesday Night Market, which evolved into a more ‘block party’ atmosphere, she said. declared.
Building on this change, Duff put food vendors at the center of Wednesday’s market, adding live entertainment and activities for the kids. She also insists that fresh fruits and vegetables are sold in every market, she said.
According to Opyd, the fun and safe Wednesday Night Market offers an example of Duff’s insight and adaptability.
“She was able to tap into what residents were looking for, knowing that Homewood wants quality and they want to have fun too,” Opyd said.
As Duff moves forward, Homewood is looking for a new Farmer’s Market Manager. the independent contractor position has multiple responsibilities, and Duff said the village is open to two or more people sharing the work and working as a team.
“Managing the farmers’ market is an important commitment. You are on site from 6 am to 2 pm every Saturday for 24 weeks in the summer, ”said Duff.
It’s a good job for community-oriented people who enjoy being outside, she said, but they also need to know some aspects of the business and have strong organizational skills. No one could do the job alone, Duff said, and she thanks the partners in the Village of Homewood for helping her.
Likewise, Opyd said she learned a lot from Duff. She gave her credit for developing the Homewood Farmers Market, which she says is 39 years old.
“Kate is an amazing leader and partner. This is why we have had success every year, ”said Opyd. “It takes an amazing person, already in a full-time position, to run a weekly summer market, a Wednesday night market, as well as a winter market.
In addition to all of these offers, Duff had planned to expand the winter market to include the months of November and December before the pandemic derailed things. She hopes that the new manager will be able to relaunch and expand the Winter Market.
“One of my long-term goals was to make the market a year-round event, which would be beneficial for the vendors and the community,” she said. “I hope the new person will be able to see through this lens.”