You won’t usually find filmmaker and food activist Matt Wechsler at his Village Farmstand in Evanston on a Monday. That day, he’s busy talking to farmers about what seasonal produce is coming in next week, catching up with his kids, or working out details for his next documentary film with his wife and filmmaking partner, Annie Speicher, at their Hourglass Films. But Wechsler made an exception today, meeting to talk about his unusual grocery concept and the story of how it came to be.
Opened August 28, 2020, Village Farmstand offers the best of what you find at seasonal farmers markets, but year-round in a brick-and-mortar location. Everything sold comes with a focus on sourcing from farms using regenerative practices.
“That means working with farms that are concerned with increasing biodiversity, soil health, climate resilience, and nutrient density,” Wechsler explains.
Wechsler’s passion for doing all he can to support regenerative farming was first crystallized during the making of his and Speicher’s award-winning documentary, Sustainable (sustainablefoodfilm.com). The film gives viewers a fascinating look at farmers, scientists, horticultural experts, and chefs who are trying to shift American food supply methods toward healthier, more sustainable practices crucial for our planet and the survival of farming communities.
Making the film, Wechsler developed strong relationships with Marty and Will Travis of Spence Farm in Fairbury, Illinois, who started the Down at the Farms LLC, a collaborative of 60-plus small farms dedicated to using regenerative practices.
When the pandemic shut down the restaurants these farmers supplied with food, Wechsler paired with the Travises to launch Village Farmstand—creating a direct farm-to-consumer outlet. The plan worked so well that Village Farmstand is working on expansion. “We are looking at opening a city location, increasing the size of our space, or adding a warehouse in Evanston,” says Wechsler. “We can’t accept full pallets of things right now, and we’re running out of cooler and freezer space, so we’re weighing our options.”
“We have grown tremendously since the launch, supplying hundreds of customers,” adds Wechsler. Thus far, the business has been great for the community, and the farmers.
Down at the Farms farmers, for example, reported sales up 39 percent in 2020, compared with the previous year. Contributing to these figures, Village Farmstand was set up to ensure that farmers receive a better price for their goods than is typical— more than three times the USDA average.
“This has been very exciting for us because it means expanded opportunity for small farms and economic growth for small farm
communities,” says Wechsler.
Currently, goods are trucked in from the farms to Evanston the first part of the week. Customers can order from the Farmstand website anytime, for pick-up four days a week.
All of Village Farmstand’s produce is seasonal, which means assortments of fruits, vegetables, and herbs change weekly. But several products, such as meat, grains, dairy, and eggs, are year-round mainstays.
As the Farmstand grows its warehousing capacity, Wechsler plans to bring in more product from regenerative- practice farms and producers all around the country— vastly expanding what “seasonal” means for North Shore shoppers. The stand already offers citrus from organic farmer San Gabriel Ranch in Valley Center, California, supplying Cara Cara oranges, pomelo, grapefruit, guava, and more. There are items from a Louisiana pecan grower, and chocolate and coffee from ChocoSol, a company supporting the regeneration of the forest gardens of Oaxaca.
The variety of items is also unusual. “There are tons of these ‘secret ingredient items’ that chefs choose for their beautiful flavor, that we are bringing here,” says Wechsler. “Artesia radishes, O’Henry sweet potatoes, Orange Zdrowie cornmeal, and so on. Village Farmstand gives you access to these amazing flavors in your own kitchen.”
Balancing the work he does at Village Farmstand with his life as a father and filmmaker is a challenge Wechsler embraces.
“I’ve often asked myself, ‘How can I start on a path that leaves a legacy for my community and for my children?’ I feel like what we are building with Village Farmstand is on that path.”
Village Farmstand is located at 810 Dempster Street in Evanston, 847-425-0398, villagefarmstand.com.