a special day at west chester growers market

DSC_6911The West Chester Growers Market is the mother of all the locally sourced, outdoor farmers’ markets we know in this area.  (Or that is my opinion.)  They started right where they are now, at the corner of Church Street and Chestnut Streets in downtown West Chester Borough.  They are, save one exception I will get to, a producers only market. As the market says on their website:

Producer-only requires that the fruits, vegetables, herbs, plants, beef, pork, eggs, flowers we have to offer you be farmed by the farmer that you meet at market; that the cheeses, salsas, sauces, pies, jams, pasta, honey, breads be sold to you by the local artisans who make them.

Four of the original families participating in this market are still part of the market. EverGreen Farm (formerlyWindy Acres Farm), Fahnestock’s Fruit Farm, North Star Orchard, and Maple Hill Farm.

DSC_6851I was honored to be asked to be part of the West Chester Growers Market’s July 30th “Know Your Farmer: Chef and Media Event”.  It was great to be among the ranks of local chefs, food writers, and well-known local food bloggers.

Last Saturday was brutally packed, but as I arrived for event check-in a little after 9:00 a.m., the market was already jam packed with customers.  As I walked down a rear alley that T-bones the alley directly behind the market, the happy cacophony of people enjoying their morning, the market, and chatting with the farmers and artisan vendors could be heard floating in the morning air.

I will be honest, parking was a challenge.  That is not the fault of the market, that is a chronic problem with the Borough of West Chester, unfortunately.

DSC_6765My first stop was a place that isn’t yet a place which is new to the market.  The “West Chester Food Co-Op.” They are the non-producer with a place at the market.

Yes, I have been open about my skepticism.  Can’t help it, given the chair of the “co-op” board and her position as Secretary of the West Chester Borough Planning Commission. I mean let’s get real: if it smells a wee bit political, it may well be political, right? I didn’t get when I commented way back when how they were asking for “donations” when they were not a non-profit and that is perfectly reasonable.  If you are asking for money, and you ask for “donations”, it is what people naturally think.

DSC_6769I heard about them seeking a building and location and so on, and more asking for “donations”. So if they are NOT a non-profit, does that make those who invest shareholders with ownership rights in the new business? If the business goes nowhere, are people refunded their investment?  And again, why call it a “donation” if you are in fact some sort of shareholder investing?

Anyway, when I last expressed my opinion on a co-op that doesn’t really exist the knives and scissors came out from some. So, sigh, I expect it again. But I have to ask are my questions/concerns so extraordinary?  Seems to me a lot of people have them.

DSC_6770So, anyway, I thought I would be fair and give them a shot to tell me about themselves and answer my questions.  I wouldn’t be rude, but they are part of the market as of 2016, so I figured why not talk to them? (I will note they did not seem to participate in this market initiative, but benefited from it.) I went up to their table which was in the alley next to Queens Farm.

They had sweet kids as volunteers and the woman in charge of the co-op who is on the West Chester Borough Planning Commission was in attendance.

The kids volunteering couldn’t answer my questions (including how they came to be at the market when they were not well, an actual producer) and I was told she was too busy to speak with me.  The kids were nervous seemingly to tell me that, so I thanked them ans said another time then.

DSC_6859O.K. so I went about my business but will also note that I brought people with me to the market on Saturday who don’t blog, they don’t know about the co-op and one person said when we were in the car leaving that they wished the food co-op luck because the people at their table were rude to them. These are people that were completely unbiased and open to the concept of a food co-op as they have been exposed to them in other stages of their lives.

DSC_6940The make-believe food co-op was the only negative of this whole event. I remember a food co-op from when I was little. It was a really cool place. I like them, I just don’t get these people and what their eventual end game actually is. And Saturday would have been their ideal and perfect opportunity to change MY mind.  They did not achieve that, sadly.

DSC_6787The West Chester Growers Market event was incredibly positive, so back to that.  Sorry, I just feel badly that actual producers put their hearts and souls into their products that they bring to market to sell. The space that “co-op” takes up could go to another farm. To me that is depriving the general public and taking money OUT of a farmer’s pocket.DSC_6999

Anyway, I had an awesome time at West Chester Growers Market on Saturday.  It is one of my haunts, and I love so many of the producers there.DSC_6823

Some of my personal favorites include Yellow Springs Farm, North Star Orchard, Blueberry Hill Farm, Applied Climatology, A Taste of Puebla, Queens Farm, Lizzie’s Kitchen, Fahnstock Fruit Farm, Big Sky Bread, Maiale Deli and Salumeria, Big Hill Ciderworks, Read Earth Farm, Maple Hill Farm, and Chile Spot. I know, I know that is like most of the market.  But these people are awesome, and they remember their customers which is something in today’s world I personally love. That added personal touch, remembering what you like.

DSC_6889Take Lizzie the Amish Lady from Lizzie’s Kitchen,  who said to me  “You are one of those people too?”  meaning I was one of the writers/bloggers.  I smiled and said yes and then we spoke about what she was preserving and baking. We spoke about Shoo Fly Pie, because hers is one of the only ones I actually like and will buy. My maternal grandmother was Pennsylvania German so I am picky about my Amish/Pennsylvania German Foods.  We had a conversation about canning, something I have taken up again on a limited basis (I know my limits!) and the milk delivery service I use (Doorstep Dairy – they are awesome!)

DSC_6877I also hung out with the North Star Orchard folks. Lisa Kerschner and her staff are as nice as they are knowledgeable.  Their products are amazing, and on Saturday they had their DSC_6863DSC_6868beets.  They grow these multicolored beets which are as spectacularly flavorful as beautiful. These beets are their own home grown/ developed variety. I love when they are in season because I especially love roasting them and serving them in a salad with Chèvre from Yellow Springs Farm.

The salad I made Sunday with what I got from North Star and Yellow Springs!

The salad I made Sunday with what I got from North Star and Yellow Springs!

And yes, one of my next stops was to visit Catherine at The Yellow Springs Farm Booth.  Yellow Springs Farm is one of my favorite places on earth, and I also patronize them at the local markets.  I have known Farmer Catherine for many years at this point – we knew each other before her farming days began and she is one of my favorite people and her husband is such a lovely man.  I not only buy their cheese, but their yogurt, soaps, and many of their native plants grow happily in my garden!  (And they let me photograph the mama goats and the new kids in the spring!)

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I also have to give a big shout out to Vera Pasta. I make a lot of my own pasta but their artisan pastas are divine! Their ravioli in particular!

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And did I mention the most adorable Jack Russel puppy ever? The West Chester Growers Market is pet friendly, so if you are a dog lover, you see some amazing pups.

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And now some photos. Enjoy them. And support the West Chester Growers Market.  It is an amazing group of people.  I look so forward to being a regular customer for decades to come! These are our farmers, and in Chester County we need to support our agricultural heritage. You can’t get fresh produce from a row of plastic McMansions, after all.

The West Chester Growers Market is one of the finest local examples of what the locavore movement is all about.  Know your farmers, know your producers. Support them and shop local.

Thanks for stopping by!!

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5 thoughts on “a special day at west chester growers market

  1. Thanks for promoting the Growers Market, a great local institution!

    This year the market has spread into the alley, so I’d be surprised if the Food Co-op crowded anyone out. When space permits, non-producers are permitted, e.g., to register people to vote (non-partisanly). When I’ve stopped by, the Co-op has been giving away food, not selling it. The Food Co-op is asking for people to buy in to help set up a grocery store in the Borough with local produce. According to http://www.wcfood.coop/, they are nearing 60% of the members needed to proceed.

    As I understand coops, they are neither for-profit nor non-profit. They are member-owned and members get the rewards, in this case the ability to purchase the food they want at a member discount or rebate.

    I don’t see why being on a Planning Commission is political. Boards and commissions help guide Borough Council in planning for the future. If planning is political, so is buying food in such a way as to benefit the community, the farmers, and the people eating the food. I don’t see a problem, on the contrary.

    • You are entitled to your opinion re: co-op and what is or is not political . Unfortunately I do not necessarily agree in this case but I thank you for taking the time to comment 😃

  2. Hi Carla – I’m vice chair of the West Chester Food Co-Op, and I’d love to answer all of your questions. We are an all-volunteer organization and our volunteers can’t be expected to know everything about the organization. They are there because they believe in the idea and want to help expand community access to fresh local food. How can I reach you and when is a good time to chat? Thanks much!

    • The best time truthfully would have been Saturday and in person – but you know your chair was too busy to speak with me- however if you want to answer my questions via a comment here that is acceptable too. It would be lovely if you could do so and thank you!

      And I disagree about how you categorized volunteers because I have volunteered for lots of organizations and we volunteers always know what the organization is about and how it operates. (It’s why one will volunteer.)

      I look forward to your reply because dummy me I thought that farmers markets like WCGM give people access to fresh local food. Even grocery store chains around here do that! So I am missing something I guess.

      If you studied food co-ops like the long established ones in Philadelphia (and Weavers Way has a non-profit arm), you would notice the reason a lot of them got started was a lack of neighborhood grocery stores. I can tell you the one near me in Society Hill as a small girl was started for that reason.

      You are all volunteer yet this is not a non-profit business model. So why not apply for small business loans and grants to get you into a bricks and mortar store?

      Thanks for your reply and look forward to your answers…in writing so it ends my confusion and the confusion of so many others !

      Thanks again!

      • Just saw this. Sorry for the delay in responding. The Co-Op is an all-volunteer organization. This means everyone who is running the initiative is a volunteer. Unpaid. And, yes, co-op businesses are ultimately for-profits but they are not for-profits as you may think of them. They are very unique in that they return profits back to their members of the community rather than back to some far away corporate board that does not have our town’s best interest at heart. Co-Op businesses have a distinct mission to support the entire local community. They hire local people, and we have plans to offer work-for-food programs for those who need it. The whole idea behind a cooperative business is that it strengthens our communities and our local economy. In addition, more than $17-million currently flows out of the Borough to corporate grocery stores that do not have missions to invest in the community. Our research clearly shows there is a market need for a full-service grocery store in the Borough. We don’t have one right now! And yes, of course the Growers Market offers people access to fresh local food. And this is great; we all love the market. But this store will expand that to a 7-day-a-week proposition and open up more opportunities for these local farmers, and we aim to make it accessible to everyone – not just people who can afford high food prices. Please let me know if you are still confused, as I’m happy to continue to answer any questions you may have! Thanks for the discourse.

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