Consumers Support Western Pennsylvania Farmers Markets

By Loeffler, William | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Consumers Support Western Pennsylvania Farmers Markets


Loeffler, William, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Long before "buy local" become the foodie's mantra, farmers markets offered an alternative to supermarket chains -- at least during harvest time.

More of these moveable feasts now are capitalizing on the backyard-to-kitchen-table trend. Once viewed by some as a quaint seasonal ritual, they've gained new relevance and sophistication as more consumers discover the advantage of buying direct from the grower.

"It's hard to find local foods in grocery stores unless you go to the East End Food Co-op or smaller places like Today's Market in Oakmont," says Dave Boulos, co-owner of Blackberry Organic Farm in Fawn. They sell produce from their 10-acre farm at markets in O'Hara, Monroeville, Oakland and the Strip District.

"You can go to the market; you can meet me at the market," he says. "I'm the same one in the fields growing the food as opposed to going to the Giant Eagle or Walmart and not really knowing who's growing it."

His brother and partner, Greg Boulos, is western director for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Founded in 1992, the nonprofit organization has helped develop the green synergy among farmers, consumers and managers of farmers markets.

Boulos calls the growth of farmers markets "a renaissance."

"It's a relocalization effort," he says. "In the distant past, pre-1930, we were very much regionally self-sufficient in our food system. Today, we are very much dependent on imported and processed food, shelf-stable food. By relocalizing our food system, we're able to gain what we call food sovereignty."

Boulos thinks the recent scares from tainted peanut butter and spinach have helped steer consumers toward local suppliers, who usually observe strict organic guidelines.

Saturdays in the Strip District, crowds of shoppers descend on Firehouse@Farmers, a popular farmers market organized by Slow Food Pittsburgh. It's a producers-only market, meaning that most people selling the produce are the ones who grew it.

They feature cooking demonstrations by a chef who prepares a meal from the meat, herbs and produce for sale at the market.

The items for sale might surprise those who thought farmers markets featured little beyond corn, tomatoes and homemade preserves.

"We have a producer who's bringing goat meat to the market," says Susan Barclay, co-leader of Slow Food Pittsburgh. "She brings ducks; she's bringing rabbits. There's a demand. People want all kinds of things. When they know they're locally raised, they're really excited to get it."

Barclay says farmers are scrambling to keep up with the demand.

"There are so many farmers markets that there aren't enough farmers in Western Pennsylvania," she says.

The City of Pittsburgh alone operates six farmers markets in different city neighborhoods, including Carrick, the South Side and East Liberty. Its most recent is Farmers at Phipps, a Wednesday afternoon market at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland. And throughout the surrounding area, there are multitudes more.

"There's actually raw milk and raw milk cheese," says Kelly Ogrodnik, sustainable designs and programs manger for Phipps. …

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