The 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.
I 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.
My 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.
I 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.
So, 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.
O.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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Take 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!)
I 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 beets. 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!
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!)
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!
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.
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!!