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Germantown Farmers Market returns, with goal of increasing sustainable agriculture in people of color communities

The Germantown Farmers Market returned Saturday after a year-long hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bakari Clark (right) brings out fresh red leaf lettuce while working the Philly Forest table at the Germantown & School House Farmers Market at Market Square Park in the Germantown section of Phila., Pa. on May 8, 2021.
Bakari Clark (right) brings out fresh red leaf lettuce while working the Philly Forest table at the Germantown & School House Farmers Market at Market Square Park in the Germantown section of Phila., Pa. on May 8, 2021.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Jessica Schaefer woke up on Saturday morning feeling more excited than she had felt in a long time.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Schaefer, 39, who grew up, and still lives, in Germantown. “It was like Christmas.”

The source of her excitement? The Germantown Farmers Market returned after a yearlong hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The market, which featured organic produce, bagged tea, and bouquets on opening day, will take place every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at Germantown Market Square Park through Oct. 30.

On Saturday, vendors sold fresh herbs such as lemongrass, lavender, and mint plants for those with a green thumb, as well as oyster and trumpet mushrooms, cold-pressed juices, and customized charcuterie boards. A balloon artist entertained children.

But the goal of the market is much bigger than what meets the eye, said David Rose, the founder of Sally Blagg, an urban design firm that is sponsoring the market this year with Philly Forests, a small-scale Germantown-based farm and urban forestry organization, and Germantown United Community Development Corp.

“We want to change the narrative of Germantown from one of violence to one that considers what’s possible when we consider solutions,” Rose said.

Germantown acquired Market Square in 1703, when the neighborhood was an independent municipality. Many farmers used Germantown Avenue to drive their sheep and cattle to the open-air market that took place in the center of the block. Rose said that it is likely Martha Washington shopped at the market when the Washingtons lived there during the deadly yellow fever epidemic of 1793 while her husband was president.

“The beauty of this place is that we’re carrying on tradition,” he said. “We didn’t make this market. It already existed.”

Another important goal of the market is to increase sustainable agriculture and urban forestry in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, Rose said.

“Part of our mission is making sure younger generations will have fresh produce,” he said. “We know that food impacts someone’s psychological being, so we want to inspire faith in ourselves, our immune systems, our elders and children. If we start to center that, we may not have as much turmoil.”

Jasmine Thompson, the owner and operator of Philly Forests, has been involved with the Germantown Farmers Market in some capacity since it opened in 2018. Her stall was stocked with fresh cabbages and bunches of spinach.

“It’s important to me to be around my neighbors and celebrate local food,” said Thompson, who is based in Germantown. “One of the great things about this market is that we have diverse vendors, which brings more diverse shoppers, and we’re creating this healthy food access point in a neighborhood where typically you would need a car to get to groceries.”

Christa Barfield, the owner of Farmer Jawn Community Greenhouses, said that as a Germantown native, she finds it encouraging to see the neighborhood transform. As a young person, she said, it’s important for her to help dictate what happens in the neighborhood.

“People need to be growing more of their own food so they become more self-sustainable,” Barfield said. “This is my home. We’re doing things in my community, and I want to show my kids that I want to take care of my home.”

Schaefer, who grew up in Germantown during the 1980s, has been bringing her family to the market since 2018. It has been “healing” to see her sons spend time in this space, she said.

“When I was a kid, it was not like this,” she said, while watching her sons buy ice cream from a Mister Softee truck. “I’m feeling really grateful today. It’s really beautiful to see the community out and thriving.”

The Germantown Farmers Market is open noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday at Germantown Avenue and East School House Lane until Oct. 30.