When the Kroger on Wisconsin Avenue closed its doors four years ago, it left a gaping hole in the heart of Peoria’s North Valley neighborhood. “People wanted to find good produce, but there were just not a lot of options,” explains Andy Diaz. Enter Urban Acres, the first-generation American’s urban farming operation. “We grow everything from corn to zucchini. It was a way for us to give back to the community—and to do something together as a family.”
In their first three years, the Diaz family produced more than 5,000 pounds of produce—most of it destined for the North Valley Farmers Market, which they launched at the corner of Spring and Monroe streets in 2018. Besides selling fresh produce from Urban Acres, the market encompasses a range of local vendors offering everything from handmade windchimes and clothing to street tacos, artwork and more. “It’s an eclectic mix… a little bit of everything,” Diaz notes.
The market also doubles as a business incubator for prospective entrepreneurs to test the waters. “There are a lot of people in our community who need a place to expand their business—or who just want to be part of something,” Diaz suggests. “We’re a great starting place. We reduce barriers of entry and try to help them find a customer base.”
Several of his vendors have done just that—and a sizeable grant announced last month is sure to bolster that trend. Impact Central Illinois, a local collective giving organization, awarded $102,500 to fund a commissary kitchen for Urban Acres and its partner, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Through the grant, they will be able to provide affordable commercial kitchen space for culinary startups, along with nutrition education classes. “Our goal is to help folks figure out their recipes, what sells and what doesn’t, so that over time they can expand and find success,” Diaz explains. He hopes to open the commissary kitchen this winter.
Between Urban Acres and the farmers market, the Diaz family has become a mighty force for good—attracting visitors to the neighborhood and extending opportunities to others. “This is true community building,” Diaz explains. “So come down and hang out, get lunch, and check out what we have to offer. Stop here in the North Valley and see that it’s a great place to be.”
The North Valley Farmers Market is open on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm. Find them on Facebook @urbanacrespeoria. PM