Oak Park Farmers Market Stone Soup Tradition Continues

A Tradition that Underscores Community Values

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Photo Credit: Village of Oak Park

The Oak Park Farmers Market will continue the tradition of serving Stone Soup at the market’s close on Oct. 27. Prepared with ingredients donated by Farmers’ Market vendors, the Stone Soup is served free of charge from about 9 a.m. until the pot is empty.

The concept of stone soup takes its roots from European Folklore. The tale highlights a group of travelers who approach a town filled with particularly inhospitable villagers unwilling to share their food. The travelers just shrugged in response and declare that they will be making a batch of their famous stone soup. They filled a cauldron with water and built a fire under it. With great ceremony, a “magic” stone gets dropped into the water. Most of the villagers had come to the square to observe the fanfare. The travelers sniffed the “broth” and licked their lips in anticipation. Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he’d retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. The village butcher managed to find some beef and so it went, through various vegetables and so on, until there was a delicious soup for all. The villagers offered the travelers a great deal of money for the magic stone, but they refused to sell and traveled on the next day. And from that time on, long after the travelers had left, the townspeople reminisced about the finest soup they’d ever had.

This pot of community soup yields a final medley of brilliant earthy flavors. The broth is much richer, heartier and complex than the mere cubes of potato or slices of carrot and onion. In many ways the origins of the farmers market parallel this subtle growth and development of a rich, vibrant atmosphere.

The idea for the market was formulated by two women after a visit to the Ann Arbor Michigan Farmers Market. They wanted to bring this concept to the Oak Park area and developed a commission in 1976. Their biggest hurdle was recruiting growers to sell at the market. The first market opened in 1976 and featured just one farmer. Year by year there was an evolving development of interest and community excitement. Flash forward 40 years and there are now over 26 growers, branded tote bags and T-shirts, weekly music and hundreds of dedicated patrons.

Ask a member of the community why they frequent the market and some may tell you about the fresh flowers and unique plants. Others will cite the vegetables, fruits, meats, and jams (if you were to ask me, it would be the cinnamon doughnuts, duh) but the underlying draw to the market, what makes the ritual of waking up early on Saturday and heading to the tattered old parking lot of Pilgrim Church is undeniably the atmosphere. Kids play on the grass and listen to live drumming on the lawn of the church, adorable adoptable dogs from the shelter gently sniff your ankles, various political committees offer to get you registered for the next election. And don’t forget about the folk band providing the perfect soundscape for doughnut eating.

The bumpy and pothole-laden parking lot of Pilgrim Church is analogous to the cauldron of stone soup. What started as a sole rock of a farmer has grown into a mixture of foods, ideas, music, and community. A walk through the market is not a trip for groceries so much as it is a representation of values and identity. All are welcome and loved at the farmers market.

I’d like to think that if the travelers from the stone soup fable were to have stumbled through Oak Park, they would have been warmly welcomed with an ear of corn dripping in butter and a canvas tote. The Oak Park Farmers’ Market is held from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, mid-May through October in the Pilgrim Church parking lot on Lake St, just west of Ridgeland Ave.

For the record, there are no actual stones in stone soup.

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