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More is Fresh: New Locations Abound in Our Farmers Market Spring Preview

It's been a long gray slog through another nasty Philadelphia winter, but spring is finally, gloriously, upon us. What better way to herald the longer days and soft nights than visiting your local farmers market and taking a little seasonal freshness with you? Dozens of markets spanning the city and 'burbs will slowly come to life in April and May, attracting throngs hungry for the sharpness of early radishes and dandelion greens, the brightness of new garlic scapes and the first tender asparagus of spring.

During the 2010 season, Farm to City operated 17 farmers markets in our area, recruiting farmers to vend, finding the sites and local partners for promotions, plus all of the permitting the city requires. Founder Bob Pierson has been connecting agriculturalists with interested urban dwellers since 1996, when he started his first market at South and Passyunk.

"I wanted to see the farmers around Philadelphia find markets for their products," he says. "I saw that it was something that would lead to lower food miles and the strengthening of the regional economy by keeping dollars in the region longer, the saving of family farms. On the city side, it brings much fresher produce into the city; things that you can't otherwise experience."

With markets scattered from Bala Cynwyd to a new Sunday market in Dickinson Square in South Philadelphia, Farm to Philly has found that old-fashioned marketing has been most effective in bringing in shoppers. "We put up posters around the market sites; there's a seasonal banner at the Media market,' Pierson explains. "We found in surveys that most people who visited the market saw it going by, or heard about it by word of mouth."

Operating more than 30 markets in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, the non-profit Food Trust has gained prestige amongst shoppers, chefs and vendors for its Headhouse market, held every Sunday May through November. "Headhouse is certainly an outstanding market," says farmer Ben Wenk of Three Springs Farm in Wenksville, Adams County. "It's growing every year and it seems like the sky's the limit." Headhouse, which opens this year on May 1, is the only large farmers market Three Springs attends in the city of Philadelphia, a fact that Wenk attributes to his farm's ongoing wholesale deliveries to other retail outlets: Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market, Weavers Way Co-op and Greensgrow Farms. "City buyers are different from other buyers out there," he says. "They're fun to work with."

Though the gorgeous bounty of produce and specialty vendors (like new addition Guapo's Tacos, the food truck from local superstar restaurateur Jose Garces) are what thrill foodie fans at Headhouse, The Food Trust's true mission is to make locally-grown, nutritious food available in every part of the city. "We're opening ten markets in low-income neighborhoods all over the city," says Katy Wich, project manager for The Food Trust. "It's part of the Get Healthy Philly campaign. Last year we did four: 22nd and Tasker, 29th and Wharton, Broad and Ritner, plus one in Kensington at Norris Square." Four more locations, including markets in Huntington Park and Broad and Olney, are already approved for this year. "We're targeting neighborhoods the Health Department has indicated as high priority, where the incidence of obesity is high," says Wich.

Located in a notoriously gritty section of North Philadelphia on a former brownfield site, Greensgrow urban farm has produced a diverse spectrum of edible and ornamental plants and hydroponically- and raised bed-grown food since 1997. Once the weather turns in May, their twice-weekly farm markets lure shoppers hungry for local crops and an alternative to Lowe's tomato plants. Though price-competitive with similar farmers markets and even big-box nurseries, Greensgrow's lack of incidental traffic has been a challenge to growing the Thursday and Saturday markets.

"Six years ago, Greensgrow was an export model sending stuff downtown (to markets)," says Ryan Kuck, farmer and program coordinator. "We've had to work hard to bring people to our site. To make this a destination farmers market we've been adding outside vendors with crafts and hard goods in addition to food. There are 500 families in our CSA program that provide a guaranteed customer base. Many of them buy a little extra or different things." In addition to produce, shoppers can stock up on pantry staples from the Kensington Community Food Co-op Project, Patterson Farms Maple Syrup, locally roasted Blue Water Coffee and grass-fed meats, cheeses, bread and eggs.

Greensgrow's mission of community-building is evident in the programming that augments the farm markets: sustainability workshops every other Saturday at noon, a children's garden with activities and a brand-new outdoor kitchen. Though just one square city block, about 11,000 people a year visit the farm. "We remake ourselves every year," says Kuck.

- Find farmers markets operated by The Food Trust by visiting here.
- Find farmers markets operated by Farm to City by visiting here.
- Greensgrow Farm, 2501 East Cumberland at Gaul St., 215-427-2702.

FELICIA D'AMBROSIO is a Philadelphia-based food writer. Her work also appears in City Paper, GRID, Metro, and Keystone Edge. Send feedback here.

All farmers market photographs by

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