New Utica produce market to begin sales

Finished structure about two weeks behind schedule

Want to buy some ears of sweet corn in Utica? Although its building isn’t quite finished, watch for impromptu sales this weekend at the new Country Kids Produce Market.

The demand is high enough from the Michelini family to offer produce from a flatbed truck at the construction site.

Steve Michelini Sr. said Tuesday that the project is a bit behind schedule because of frequent rain. Demand for produce is so high, however, that he and his family will make fresh fruits and vegetables available for purchase the weekends before the scheduled opening date of July 29.

“We’re probably going to sell on the concrete before the building is done because we’ve had a lot of people stop by and ask,” Michelini said.

In May, the Utica Village Board cleared the way for the Michelinis to build a permanent structure south of the Illinois and Michigan Canal on the east side of Route 178. The farmers market will be a satellite to the Michelini’s existing farmers market on Plank Road in Peru, which, Michelini said emphatically, will remain open.

“We’re just expanding our market permanently to be in Utica,” co-owner Kelsey Brannan told the Village Board. “It’ll just be a spot for people to unwind after going to Starved Rock.”

Brannan said they’d planned for some years to open a satellite business in Utica, but were thwarted by COVID-19.

The plans include a building with seating for diners to sample sweet corn and other produce (no alcohol will be sold) plus a grain bin gazebo. The property will be protected from flooding by what’s called a gabion basket wall, a barrier composed of rock and fill in a mesh enclosure.

The target completion date was July 15, but Mother Nature had other ideas and stymied their plans for mid-month opening. Michelini said the concrete soon will be poured, but the finish date remains about two weeks behind schedule.

Nevertheless, the project has generated enough excitement in Utica for the Michelinis to ply their wares on the foundation, offering sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelons, peaches and other fresh produce.

But anybody hoping for pumpkins will have to wait until Labor Day draws a bit closer.

“It’s too soon for pumpkins,” he said. “Our pumpkins are just now starting to pollinate so they’ll the ready the 15th of August.”

Michelini confirmed earlier reports the Utica location will close for the season on Halloween, but emphasized that operations will be expanded in the coming years. He said he and his family hope to commence their sales season in early June 2022 and extend service to late next year, with operations ahead of Christmas.

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.