Seasons evoke memories. Summer evokes hot days and a slice of juicy watermelon, slightly warm from being recently picked; juice trickling down your chin from a local peach; mouth blue from blueberries; fresh picked tomatoes waiting for a salad. In addition to the many taste delights of fresh local produce, many are finding plenty of other reasons to put locally grown produce and other items on their tables.
The current economy is pushing people to look for alternatives to the increasingly enormous supermarket chains. In addition, food that is locally produced is not only fresher, but often less expensive because it doesn't travel great distances to get to market.
People are also growing increasingly aware of the effects of chemicals and pesticides, which also causes people to seek alternative food sources. There is something to be said for being able to check out who is producing the food you put on your table. Ever notice the increasing number of those little "Buy Fresh Buy Local" bumper stickers? The www.buylocalpa.org website is a wonderful way to do some exploring of all the varied local alternatives – it's also not just produce any more.
If you grow it yourself you can choose to be pesticide free, and many of these farmers and producers at these local markets also strive to pay attention to pesticides and chemicals, and in many cases are truly organic growers. (Organic growers go through a certification process and you can learn more about it and even find farms on www.paorganic.org)
Many have also chosen to start growing their own food in addition to patronizing local farms and markets. Community gardens and local farm markets are also community builders. These days, we often don't have time for our neighbors, and farmers' markets and community gardens are old-fashioned throwbacks to a simpler time. Given the popularity of markets and community gardens, many people seem to like the healthier ways of eating and socializing.
In Radnor Township for example, there are two community gardens. One is Common Ground at the Radnor United Methodist Church in Garrett Hill. The other is the Skunk Hollow Community Garden, which took over the land at the township owned Willows vacated by the non-profit Greener Partners.
Sara Pilling, a resident of Garrett Hill and an avid gardener and member of both gardens says not only were residents seeking the value and healthy alternatives of growing their own food, that local people "were looking for a way to 'build community.' "
Why create these gardens other than for growing food? "To bring residents together," Pilling said. "New friendships are being formed. Folks are working together."
At first, the idea for the Garrett Hill garden was unpopular, with people about real estate values.
But upon looking around Garrett Hill, a resident noticed that behind the Radnor United Methodist Church there was a good size empty plot in the graveyard. Residents approached the church, and now in its second year, Common Ground is a success and quite lovely. Each of the 11 participating families has one full plot, and they also offer flowers to the church. Two families took advantage of the raised beds and created small 'hoop houses', to grow greens all winter and into early spring. This garden is full of flowers, vegtables, and herbs.
Skunk Hollow, once a location of much controversy at the Radnor Township-owned Willows is in its inaugural season, and is off to a blooming success. It was begun with a bare field surrounded by an impermeable deer-proof fence and a source of water, with sponsorship this first year by the Radnor Conservancy and a nod of approval from Radnor Township.
The Skunk Hollow Community Garden, open solely to Radnor residents, has not only brought people together to raise fresh produce, it has provided a sense of accomplishment and a new forged sense of community. After just a few short months, it is a garden of great bounty and beauty, full of vegtables, herbs, fruit, and flowers. About 50 families in Radnor are gardening on 37 plots.
Each Saturday beginning this week, excess bounty from the Skunk Hollow Community Garden will be gathered up and taken to Philabundance's pick-up-spot at Rose Tree Park in Media. Philabundance will distribute this produce throughout Delaware County.
While not certified organic, the food coming out of these gardens in Radnor Township is reported to be pesticide-free.
"It shows how a public-private partnership can work when you have dedicated and commited partners who truly work together for the best interest of the community through hard work and great communication, " said Radnor Township Manager Robert Zienkowski. "Sara Pilling and the entire group of residents of all ages are examples of bringing an idea to a successful reality."
If you're in the market to buy produce, two buy fresh-buy local farm markets worthy of attention are in Chester County, close to the western edges of the Main Line. These markets are the well established Grower's Market in downtown West Chester, and the East Goshen Farmers' Market on Paoli Pike in East Goshen's beautiful township park.
West Chester Growers Market began in 1994 when local farmers got together to revive the local tradition of local and seasonal food markets that were once a staple in many communities.The market was chose to keep it relatively local, and farmers could only sell what they actually grew and produced. Hence the term Producers Market. Approved in 1995, the West Chester Growers Market has been a hit ever since, with a solid relationship forged between the community and the local farmers.
It is open on Saturdays between May and November, rain or shine from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the corner of Church and Chestnut Streets, with ample free street parking.
If you go, be sure to check out Queen's Farm for amazing produce and Asian vegetables, Lizzie's Kitchen for baked goods and preserves, Oley Valley Mushrooms, Lindenhof Farm, Yellow Springs Farm for artisanal goat cheeses, and Applied Climatology LLC, local growers of amazing perennials and daylilies. The prices at this market are fair, and somewhat more reasonable than the farm-to-city markets in mny towns, including Bryn Mawr and Havertown.
Closer to the Main Line is the East Goshen Farmers' Market. Also a producers market, it is held every Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. in East Goshen's beautiful municipal park on Paoli Pike, just east of Route 352, and slightly west of Sugartown Road. It features crossover vendors from West Chester's market.
East Goshen's market is incredibly organized and well run, with terrific variety and reasonable prices. It draws people from all over the area.
"East Goshen's market just celebrated it's first birthday, and has been very well received by our residents as well as visitors to the township, said East Goshen Township Manager Rick Smithr. "We also have an advantage of abundant free parking in our park."s
If you go to the East Goshen market, be sure to check out the local honey from Carmen Battavio, who is not only a local beekeeper but a supervisor in East Goshen Township. Also great are the cheeses and dairy products from East Goshen's Shellbark Hollow Farms, produce from Blueberry Hill Farm, baked goods from both St. Peter's Bakery and Dia Doce Cupcakes (a winner Food Network's "Cupcake Wars"), fresh fruit from Frecon Farms, and granola from Laura's Biscotti of Malvern.
East Goshen Farmers' Market can be found on the web at http://www.eastgoshenfarmersmarket.blogspot.com.