Ripe Tomatoes, sweet corn and summer fruits are just a few of the highlights at farmers markets around Chester County as we enter National Farmers Market Week, an annual celebration of the vital role farmers markets play in the nation’s food system.
With over 210 farms in Chester County selling directly to the public, farmers markets provide a low-barrier entry point for farmers and other entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. This is especially true for new and beginning farmers, a critical part of the agricultural economy, as the average age of the American farmer is on the rise.
“Right now is arguably the best season to shop at the farmers market,” says Growing Roots Partners owner Christy Campli. “Local food tastes better and it's especially true with seasonal produce like tomatoes - everyone knows a tomato just tastes better in season!”
Campli and her team manages the Downingtown, Malvern, Devon Yard and Eagleview Farmers Markets in Chester County.
One of Campli’s proudest moments since taking over ownership of Growing Roots earlier this year has been introducing her neighbors to farmers market shopping.
“My neighbors are now among the first to arrive at market every week, they never miss a Saturday. It's a testament to the power of local food. Once you taste and feel the difference - you can really never go back!” says Campli.
Downingtown Farmers Market shopper Robin Spurlino (also of Downingtown) agrees: “Finding that new specialty item produced in small batches or my favorite variety of heirloom vegetables that never show up in the grocery stores is an adventure. Somehow the food from the farmers market is more delicious, it’s fresh and local.”
Fellow Downingtown Farmers Market shopper Pat Daniels of Exton, who likes to shop with her grandchildren, can’t say enough good things about her market experiences.
“There’s a great variety of fresh veggies and fruits as well as bakery and specialty foods. I recommend it to everyone,” she says.
Farmers markets are more than culinary destinations though. They directly impact the success of many local farm businesses who depend on connecting directly with their customer base to maintain their bottom lines.
Chester County has 10 farmers markets spread throughout the region. In addition to the sites run by Growing Roots Partners, shoppers can visit the Artisan Exchange and Wester Chester Growers Markets in West Chester, Kennett Square Farmers Market, New Garden Growers Market, Oxford Village Market and Phoenixville Farmers Market.
Details of the exact locations, hours and web sites for all Chester County-based farmers market can be found on the Chester County Agricultural Development Council (Ag Council) website, and in the Ag Council’s 2021 Guide to Local Farm Products.
Jeremy Dunphy of Pasture Song Farm in Pottstown says, “Farmers markets play a crucial role in allowing us farmers to direct market our products to consumers. This allows us to capture more value from our items and gives us a stable cash flow throughout the year.”
“Connecting with the community and shortening supply chains are big reasons we enjoy participating in farmers markets,” he adds.
Jodi Gauker of Gauker Farms agrees. She says the relationships she’s built with her customers over the years are what make her 9th generation family farm business possible.
“The relationships are what I value most,” says Gauker. “I love that our customers know that Jodi is their beef lady and Lee is their farmer, and by buying from us they are supporting other small businesses at the market, too, because that's where we buy the bulk of our groceries.”
Through buying goods from local farmers like Gauker, who in turn spend their dollars at other local businesses, a “multiplier effect” is created, which provides a positive ripple effect for the larger regional economy.
Throughout the challenges of the past year, market managers and vendors have quickly adapted to implement extra safety practices, keeping their communities healthy and fed. Many farmers markets experienced an increase in new customers drawn by the fact that products sold there pass through a limited number of hands, and that many farmers markets are held outside.
Regardless of the pandemic-related challenges they’ve had to overcome, farmers like Dunphy and Gauker are always excited to set up their tents on market day to catch up with their favorite customers and friends.
“I not only get to share recipe ideas, but I get to learn how all these families are incorporating our beef into their weeknight tacos or weekend trips to the shore. I love food with a story,” Gauker says.
To find your Chester County farmers market and learn more about local farming, visit chescofarming.org/WhereToBuy.cfm
Photo credited: Campli Photography/Growing Roots Partners