A local farmers market recently expanded their business to include Cissna Park.
Brock Zalaker has been setting up a farmers market each week in Paxton this summer and recently decided to start selling in Cissna Park as well.
Zalaker set up in Cissna Park on Aug. 1 alongside Donna’s Rolls N’ Pastries on the north side of town from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Zalaker said he was hoping to set up a small farmers market in Cissna Park on Saturdays to go alongside the farmers market that had already been established in Paxton on Thursdays.
He said they hoped to find a few more vendors to set up with them in the future.
“It’s kind of late in the season, but we’ll see what we can do,” he said.
Donna’s Rolls N’ Pastries, owned by Donna Young, has been active in Urbana’s winter time markets, in Rantoul and alongside Zalaker’s farmers market in Paxton on Thursdays.
Zalaker said the farmers market in Paxton is generally open from 4-7 p.m. on Thursdays. He said they are pretty much guaranteed to be open from 4-6 p.m. with the final hour being dependent on how much produce or baked goods they have sold that day.
He said they set up the market near the Paxton Carnegie Library on South Market Street in Paxton.
Zalaker said the farmers market they put on in Paxton this year was on May 1.
Zalaker said this was his second year of presenting it in Paxton, while Les Young, Donna’s husband, said it was third or fourth year Donna’s Rolls N’ Pastries had taken part.
While some of the markets they usually sell in had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Young said Donna’s Rolls N’ Pastries had still seen a pretty steady line of customers this year.
Zalaker said it’s hard to say how the farmers market had been affected due to the pandemic this year since they have been trying to more aggressively promote the farmers market this year.
He said he has heard from several people who were happy to have the opportunity to shop at their farmers market as opposed to elsewhere due to the restrictions that have been put in place at some markets due to the pandemic.
Zalaker mentioned farmers markets in Urbana possibly implementing procedures that move the produce back from the customers and can keep the customers from picking up and inspecting the produce.
“Everybody likes to be able to inspect what they are going to buy,” he said.
Young added that people appreciate the fact that Zalaker knows what’s in, and what’s not in, the produce he sells.
“The big thing that I see with his produce is he knows what’s in it and what’s not in it,” he said.
Zalaker said he uses his Facebook page, listed under Brock’s Garden, to try and showcase his gardening techniques.
“I show my giant pile of compost I got from Urbana, I try to share my different techniques and methods that I’m using,” he said.
Zalaker stressed that he is not certified as “organic” so he can’t utilize that term since it’s regulated by the USDA, but he tries to focus on being as close to organic as he can.
“I try to focus as hard as I can the natural organic way,” he said. “I don’t spray pesticides, I don’t use Miracle Grow. I use natural stuff to build soil and health.”
Zalaker said his customers appreciate this approach.
“That seems to go a long way for people once they understand what I’m doing,” he said.
Zalaker pointed to his tomatoes when asked what produce is most popular among his customers.
“My tomatoes are my moneymaker,” he said. “People like tomatoes.”
Zalaker said his customers appreciate the difference between tomatoes grown in a garden versus store-bought tomatoes.
“It’s true, there’s a big difference between the tomatoes you buy that somebody pulled out of their garden and in the store,” he said. “Store-bought tomatoes, they pick them with hardly any color and ship them green to prevent bruising and that affects the end result.”
Zalaker said his process allows him to let the tomatoes mature naturally and sell them when they are ready.
“With me, I can leave them on the vine until they’re almost ripe and then pick them,” he said.
Asked if he planned on presenting his market in any other locations beyond Paxton and Cissna Park, Zalaker said not at this point.
“I’m a one-man operation so trying to grow more produce for another market…” he said. “I’m just looking to build business at these two hopefully.”
Young added that Donna can only bake her items so far ahead of each market, so that limits how many markets she can take part in a week. He added that she has family obligations along with taking on projects like making masks and quilts, so her available time is limited.
Young said Donna has a cottage food license so she can bake at home and sell at farmers markets.
Zalaker said Donna’s Rolls N’ Pastries is definitely a major business draw since they’re so well known around the area.
“They’re definitely the business drawer,” he said. “They’re more well-known than I am.”
Asked what the most popular baked good on offer at Donna’s Rolls N’ Pastries was, Young said people love her cinnamon rolls. In addition to the cinnamon rolls, Donna’s Rolls N’ Pastries also offers zucchini bread, banana bread, a variety of cookies, pecan rolls, apple fritters, pies of various sizes and flavors and buttery blueberry bars.
Young said Donna had gotten up a 4 a.m. the morning of the market to bake many of the goods that were available for sale Aug. 1.
For more information about what Donna’s Rolls N’ Pastries has to offer visit their Facebook page.
Zalaker said they’ve had a lot of repeat customers including a few who kept missing the market in Paxton on Thursdays so they traveled to Cissna Park on Aug. 1 to visit the market.
Zalaker started his farmers market because of the fact that a lot of produce is grown regionally in the U.S. and he asked how much is grown around here?
While he started his work with farmers markets a few years ago, Zalaker said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought those initial concerns about having access to locally-grown food to light.
“Look at how beef shot up dramatically,” he said. “A lot of our produce is grown in the southwest and goes through the same processing plants.”
Zalaker asked what happens in the fall if COVID-19 numbers go up and those plants are forced to close. He said consumers could see the price of produce shoot up as well.
He said presenting farmers markets with locally-grown produce is a way to help his community.
“For me it was a way to contribute to my community even on a small scale starting out,” he said. “Looking at the long-term, I may be able to actually provide something beneficial to my community.”