Farmers market loses central figure

By Gus Bode

Patrick Sweeney spent the last 27 years of his life growing a community out of his passion.

Sweeney, an organic farmer, provided Carbondale residents with fresh produce as one of the original vendors at the Carbondale Farmers Market before he died from pancreatic cancer Aug. 5.

And while he will no longer be at the market, his stand of multicolored flowers and vegetables will remain throughout the season as his wife is left to manage without him.


Steve Smith, a local farmer and familiar face at the market, said Sweeney was a part of the market for 27 years and president of the Farmers Market Association for the last 10.

The local produce market is a weekly grocery stop for many residents as well as an opportunity to socialize. Founded in 1976 by the Illinois South Project, it outgrew two previous locations and moved to the Westown Mall parking lot where its operated for the last 25 years.

Henry Mulder, a health inspector for Jackson County, said Sweeney believed in providing organic vegetables and natural fruit to people.

‘After a while, it becomes less about how much money you make and more of a way of life,’ he said.

Shari Sweeney, Patrick Sweeney’s wife of 14 years, said taking care of the four acres of organic produce was hard but beautiful work. She said he would rise with the sun, drink a cup of coffee and head outside, often not finishing until dark.

The farm, identified by a cabin-like house and Patrick Sweeney’s famous pile of compost, grows a wide range of produce. Nurtured within the five gardens are several varieties of tomatoes, garlic, strawberries, squash, sunflowers and zinnias, along with a host of other vegetables and flowers. At this time of year, the property is a riot of reds, yellows, oranges and greens-until the produce is picked.

‘We used to call ourselves the color robbers,’ Shari Sweeney said.


She said she is not sure what she is going to do with the farm in the future, but for the time being, she is going to continue tending and harvesting the gardens.

‘Patrick planted these things,’ she said. ‘I can’t just let them go.’

Smith said Patrick Sweeney would be remembered for his tenacity. He kept a positive attitude throughout his illness, he said, and was still talking about the farm days before he passed away. During his years providing produce, Smith said he was focused at having more and better supplies than he did the year before.

Shari Sweeney said even when her husband went through chemotherapy and doctors suggested he cut down on the amount of produce he provided to the farmers market, he thought he would let customers down if he did not offer everything he usually did.

‘He loved to supply the people in this community with good food,’ she said. ‘He cared about the people that he fed.’

Genna Ord can be reached 536-3311 ext. 254 or [email protected].