Gone are the days of bringing mass produced items to your table and giving gifts that lack flair. Give a taste of individuality and uniqueness with the next gift you give by choosing from one of Champaign County’s local makers. They are dishing out small batch products with more heart and soul packed in each one than any large big box retailer could ever provide. Gifts and products are more enjoyable when they come from a trusted source and are backed by a rich story. Here’s some of our local favorites with just that:
Have you ever heard of an Autumn Berry? An invasive species, the Autumn Berry is a deliciously sweet and nutrient rich fruit produced by the autumn olive tree. Upon learning that the fruit is often used in Asia, owner of local farm, Autumn Berry Inspired, Dustin Kelly, decided to research uses of the Autumn Berry rather than try to eliminate the plant. He found a way to improve and diversify invaded land by harvesting the Autumn Berry fruit and applying the principles of permaculture. Dustin now produces exceptional sweet jams as well as some that are spicy that are perfect for adding to meat entrees. In addition to the jams, they also produce fruit leather and purees for creating your own Autumn Berry inspired creations. Whether you choose spicy or sweet, you can pick up this treat at Common Ground, Urbana's Market at the Square, and their webstore. You can also find their products used at local restaurants such as Big Grove Tavern and Pizzeria Antica.
This third generation, family-owned business dates back to 1951. Owner, Mark Herriott, continues to evolve the business, officially opening a roastery on Columbia Street in downtown Champaign to enhance the coffee experience for customers. Each bag bearing their name is roasted right here in our backyard, with 19 different varietals grown in 16 countries. Mark often leads cupping tours so coffee lovers can learn about the roasting process. The Roastery also employs more than three dozen adults with developmental disabilities at Misericordia in Chicago, where close to a thousand pounds of coffee flow for weighing, measuring and grinding. Columbia Street Roastery proudly offers their coffee at various restaurants in the area, as well as for purchase online or at their store in Champaign.
These aren't your everyday, run of the mill pastries—these are pastries that provide an experience of purity and artistic aesthetics. Kaya Tate, the owner, only chooses pastries that bring her excitement. She based her foundation from old-fashioned candies and cakes and reimagined and modernized their image through inspiring art and nature. They provide full-sized cakes, custards, bite-sized desserts, and bon bons, as well as baked goods and confections such as marshmallows and caramels. These masterpieces can be found inside Art Mart in Champaign, at the Land Connection Farmer's Market, other small festivals and events, and soon in the own brick-and-mortar location! In addition, you'll also find their pies at Watson's Shack & Rail and the Art Theater!
Whether you want Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, or a custom design, artisan Hugh Bridgeford makes functional and decorative pottery intended to make its users smile. Although his pots are styled on the functional ware of a century ago they are often decorated with images drawn from more recent popular culture. Hugh studied pottery at the turn of the century and by 2008 had been recognized by the state as an Illinois Artisan. He creates his whimsical pieces at his studio in his Urbana home, where he's created his key piece, a moonshine jug glazed in bright colors of which the pioneer potters would have never thought. He has shipped jugs from Los Angeles to Dublin, Ireland and into Australia. You can order from his stock pieces on his website, or place a custom order with your desired artwork for a one-of-a-kind piece.
When Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband moved from an urban and academic life in Madison, Wisconsin to a rural farm in Champaign, they converted their traditional grain farm into a perennial farm with a lush cover crop of buckwheat and planted over 250 fruit trees and 600 berry plants. They also bought four Nubian goats and soon took a chance on cheese-making. Today, their farm is a Grade A goat dairy and farmstead creamery with over 70 milkers, while also producing perennial crops. They produce mostly French-inspired cheeses with roots in their deep, dark, prairie soils right on the farm each week. But it doesn't end there. Wes and Leslie traveled to Europe to learn the art of making gelato and are currently the only known goat's milk gelato producers, with flavors sourced from their own or local Illinois farms. Their products can be purchased at Urbana's Market at the Square, the Land Connection Farmer's Market, Chicago's Green City Market as well as Common Ground Food Co-op, Strawberry Fields, World Harvest Foods and Cheese and Crackers, or during their open hours on the farm.
Glass artist Jim Downey just likes making things out of wood, cardboard, metal and anything he can get his hands on. Jim explains, ìIt's rare that I have an idea for a finished piece, but more often, a general direction, inspired mostly by color relationships. Inspiration can come from sunsets, landscapes and flowers on the side of the road, to native weavings and images generated by the Hubble telescope. With glass, creativity is inherent in the process.î Jim started working with glass 30 years ago when he discovered his affinity for stained glass. Since then, he's found a passion for glassblowing, which has turned into his life's work. His gallery can be found on the historic square in Monticello where you'll often find him working in the shop. He offers classes and demonstrations in between the many art fairs he attends. You can purchase his unique pieces on his website, at the gallery or at various art fairs throughout Illinois.
What do you get when two forms of expressive culture collide? Here in Champaign County, you get the iconic designs of Scobar's graphic T's! Scott Scobar's quirky and sometimes strange designs are meant to make the wearer feel lighter and less serious. Scobar's story began in high school when he realized his design work was sought out for purchase, especially when placed on a shirt. Scobar explains, "My product is a clothing line but I view it as more than that, and I hope others do, too." The rest is history and his products can be found locally at Dandelion and Bohemia, purchased on his website and soon available on Amazon.com.
Jackie Wright wishes that she had a romantic story as to why she started making soap—but she doesn't. She started on a whim after being inspired by an article (or maybe a YouTube video). After a lot of research on cold process soap making, she made her first batch. What started out as something to try for fun has developed into a passion and commitment to crafting the highest quality soaps that not only look and smell good, but most importantly feel great on your skin. "I truly want people to love using The Wright Soapery soaps as much as I love making them," Jackie says. "Therefore, I will never stop asking the one question that started it all, 'How can I make it better?'" The Wright Soapery proudly offers their products each week at Urbana's Market at the Square and also on their website.
Do you have a favorite local maker in Champaign County, Monticello, or Arthur? Encourage them to reach out to our Vice President of Marketing, Terri Reifsteck at terrir@visitchampaigncounty with a description of what they produce and a headshot, for consideration in our Makers Section and free promotion!