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When it comes to judging the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables, the trick is figuring out which store handpicks the stock, takes in frequent deliveries, regularly weeds out the stuff gone bad, and heeds the tastes of its shoppers. These destinations—including our favorite summertime farmers' market—rate high:


During the summer it’s downright pleasurable to shop for produce, and this organic-leaning farmers’ market rigorously screens its sellers for good farming practices. We like these in particular: Kinnikinnick Farm for its triple-washed baby arugula, Italian cooking greens, and baby beets; Tomato Mountain for tomato seedlings and Chris Covelli’s lip-smacking jarred fruit preserves; Green Acres Farm for its heirloom tomatoes and a variety of exotic squashes; Mick Klug Farms for berries and vibrant stone fruit, including peaches and cherries; Nichols Farm & Orchard for its wide selection of interesting potatoes and staggering range of apples; and Prairie Fruits Farm for Leslie Cooperband’s creamy and sweet fresh goat’s-milk cheese. Open on Wednesdays and Saturdays through October 31st at the south end of Lincoln Park between 1750 N. Clark St. and Stockton Drive; chicagogreencitymarket.org

With a name like Garden Fresh, this rapidly expanding local chain of large-scale grocery stores practically dares customers to take its moniker at face value. The fruits and vegetables may not be straight-out-of-the-ground fresh, but they handily outshine those found at Dominick’s and Jewel. Each Garden Fresh store maintains its high quality year-round and offers a quirky selection of ethnic produce tailored to the needs of customers. Owner Adi Mor, who immigrated to Chicago from Israel, started in the business hawking vegetables from the back of a truck and opened his first store in Skokie in 1980 (it has since closed); then came Chicago’s West Side, Wheeling, Mundelein, and Northbrook. This past May, the ninth location opened, in Naperville, extending the business’s reputation for handpicked produce, delivered daily. Julie Smolucha, who does marketing for the company, says frequent deliveries also mean that a store’s produce manager can usually fulfill a special request within days. 7150 Capitol Dr. (main office and warehouse), Wheeling; 847-520-1200, gardenfreshmarket.com for locations

Opened in 1996 by George Kazantzis, this smallish Greek produce grocer is so unobtrusive you might drive right by its location on the corner of a well-trafficked intersection in Westmont. But you’d be missing some of the best produce in the western suburbs. Kazantzis handpicks his fruits and vegetables seven days a week from Chicago’s produce distribution center (formerly known as the South Water Market, now called the Terminal Market) and travels to similar markets in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan in search of the best stuff. His efforts pay off in some of the brightest-looking produce we found anywhere—from staples like bananas, bell peppers, and a wide array of leafy greens to a big selection of exotic finds like Hawaiian papaya, fava beans, kabocha squash, taro root, and something called opo (a batlike gourd popular in Taiwan). Chef Paul Virant of Vie in Western Springs said the fresh almonds he spotted there recently were some of the best quality he’d ever seen. We’ll take his word on that. 257 N. Cass Ave., Westmont; 630-769-0004

Follow the mobs to Stanley’s, about a mile west of Lincoln Park on North Avenue, and you’ll be rewarded with rock-bottom prices on fruits and vegetables, an increasing portion of which are organic—about 40 percent, according to the manager, Stanley’s son Peter Panagiotaros. “My father’s whole premise was ‘priced to move,’” says Panagiotaros, the person responsible for those so-low-you-can’t-believe-it sales (10 kiwis for $1!). He doesn’t deny that the extreme markdowns aren’t a subtle and effective means of advertising his father’s mantra. The store is also a good source for affordable bulk spices and olive oil. 1558 N. Elston Ave.; 773-276-8050

Sunflower Market opened in Lincoln Park this past August and has since snuggled into its niche as the more affordable and just-as-fresh alternative to Whole Foods. Developed in-house by a Minneapolis-based corporate grocer called Supervalu, Chicago’s Sunflower is one of only four locations, all in the Midwest. The concept, says the store’s manager, Frank Sarillo, is lower prices on organic goods through better efficiency and, thus, lower costs. For example, the store puts small daily produce deliveries directly on its refrigerated shelves, saving on labor and real estate for storage. Sunflower’s wide selection of fresh organics is impressive, and the market does double up on certain staples like bananas and avocados. On the day we visited, conventional bananas were a very nice 44 cents a pound. 1910 N. Clybourn Ave.; 773-348-4667, sunflowermarkets.com

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Farm Stand and Deliver

Three new services bring local produce to you

Organic is hot—and the demand for locally farmed fruits and vegetables is following close behind. Three innovative delivery services make it easy to buy local: they source seasonal, organic produce from farms in the region, take orders by phone and online, then bring the goods to you (at prices comparable to Whole Foods’ plus a $5-ish delivery fee per order). South of Aurora in Oswego, Natural Direct (630-551-7878, naturaldirect.com) serves many of the western suburbs, including Naperville, Hinsdale, and Glen Ellyn. Based in Niles, Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks (847-410-0595, freshpicks.com) carries a complete selection of organic fruits and vegetables all year, but explodes with local choices during the summer; Fresh Picks reaches about 60 ZIP Codes, from Hyde Park to Highland Park. Oakville Organics (847-831-3030, oakvilleorganics.com) gets most of its business from the North Shore, where the company has its warehouse, and also carries what co-owner Sid Siegel claims is the largest selection of kosher organic meat in the Midwest. 
–J. T.


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