A garlic farm, aptly named Garlic Breath Farm, a boutique BBQ sauce supplier with a 165-year-old recipe, and more Chicagoland artisans will be lining up Oak Brook Center’s Village Green for the Oak Brook Artisan Market from Oct. 1 to Oct. 2 between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The market in its 13th season is run by local Oak Brook residents Jonathan and Lynna Smith, who also operate the Chicago Artisan Market in Fulton Market and Ravenswood, and one in Naperville.
“It’s like a good Easter Egg Hunt. Shoppers keep finding undiscovered treasures as they circle the lawn,” said market co-founder, Jonathan.
Both Jonathan and his wife and co-founder, Lynna, have worked with small businesses for more than 18 years through their company, INV Marketing Group.
And in 2018, the “experience” of the artisan market was dreamed up by the husband-wife duo during a time when pop-up opportunities for small businesses were becoming a hot ticket to connect with customers.
“We want every market to be a home run for every artisan,” Lynna said. “We take the responsibility very seriously to deliver an audience every time.”
The Oak Brook space is limited to 60 vendors, which the Smiths have curated to be an even distribution of fashion, home goods, food, art, and more niche categories like woodworking and natural skin care.
Over the years, Jonathan and Lynna watched as the small business owners grew and evolved their products, as well as their customer base.
“It’s been exciting to watch — they’re like our children, so we’re not supposed to have favorites,” Jonathan laughed.
What’s even neater, said Lynna, are some of the stories attached to each vendor — particularly how an idea turned into a passion project, to a shared experience.
One such is Garlic Breath Farm, owned by Tony and Sharon Pferschy, who moved to Elburn in 2015 to raise their pet pig, Kevin Bacon, away from the rules and regulations imposed by residential associations.
The 5-acre lot came with a 1-acre microfarm field, which they discovered was suitable for growing lavender or garlic.
“We knew we loved garlic and we knew there were a bunch of benefits, so our master plan was, if we did this and couldn’t sell it, we would eat it. And that was that,” Psferchy laughed.
She added that they never planned on becoming commercial farmers since they both held full-time software jobs, but a hobby soon led them to grow and sell 35,000 garlic bulbs last year.
For this year’s harvest, they planted 50,000 bulbs last October but nearly sold out again. “We’ll bring what little we have left,” Psferchy said.
“I always tell our customers, growing garlic is a nine-month process, so you could have a garlic or you could have a baby. Totally your call,” she laughed.
The garlic is certified organic, which means it went through a soil quality check when an inspector dropped in unannounced at the farm one day. It’s something the Psferchy’s like to point out to customers at each of the artisan markets they attend.
“[The inspector] took plant samples of all the different areas of the garlic field and sent them out to the lab — I thought, you know — that’s really great. We want people to know when they’re seeing that organic symbol, it’s so much more than just a higher price point,” Psferchy said.
While the garlic itself draws crowds, they’ve also spun off into garlic hot sauces, garlic fermented honey, garlic spices in collaboration with another vendor, Gindo’s Spice of Life, and a quirky, yet popular garlic candle.
Other produce for sale will be organic leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, squash and scotch bonnet peppers.
A large bulb of garlic is priced at $3, medium for $2, and small for $1. “We’re all for just having a good conversation, too,” Psfershy said.
Also a fan of good conversation is Eudell Watts, who follows the Smiths’ Artisan Market everywhere they go with his Old Arthur’s BBQ products.
The award-winning BBQ sauce was recently named the “best tomato-based BBQ sauce in America” by the National Barbecue and Grilling Association.
“When you taste it, you see why,” Watts said. The recipe is as special as its story: Watt’s great-great-grandfather, Arthur, formulated the BBQ sauce as a slave — and one of America’s original pitmasters — in Missouri.
“His job day in and day out revolved around open-pit barbecuing as a slave. He was freed at the end of the Civil War after the Emancipation Proclamation, and the only thing of value coming out of bondage was his recipes,” Watts said. “He took them with him when he left Kansas City and wound up here in Illinois.”
Watts said his great-great-grandfather, who lived to be 108, “earned a living putting those recipes to work for 80 years as a free man.”
“We’ve taken no liberties with the original recipe,” Watts said, explaining that his family has a copy of the recipe in the handwriting of Arthur’s children, who, unlike their father, could read and write.
Though in the kitchen, it took Watts a lot of experimentation translating “a dash, fist, and palm-full” into actual measurements.
The original sauce is described by Watts as “rich and tangy with a hint of hickory and just the right amount of kick.” The sauce is vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and made without high-fructose corn syrup, he said.
At the Oak Brook Artisan Market, customers can purchase bottles of Arthur’s BBQ sauce for $8, or $20 for three.
The format of the Artisan Market is an ideal way for vendors to get their name out, Watts said, adding that he’s now a featured vendor that serves brisket and plated lunch combos while also selling his products.
For Lynna, who saw up-close the impact COVID-19 had on small business owners, vendors who have successfully claimed their own space makes her emotional, she said.
“You’re seeing people who have figured out how to succeed,” she said.
The Village Green at Oak Brook Center (100 Oakbrook Center Road) is located in the courtyard near Starbucks and the Apple Store.
For more information on Oak Brook Artisan Market, visit oakbrookartisanmarket.com.
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