Dave Fahnestock grew the peaches, but it was the pols who got the applause last week.
Fahnestock and Quentin Shirk, another Lancaster County farmer, have been selling their produce outside the Frankford Transportation Center every Tuesday afternoon since late July, but it seems being open for business isn’t enough. There needs to be a “grand opening” complete with politicians, speeches and Mummers.
So, on Tuesday morning, Sept. 13, almost five hours earlier than usual, Fahnestock set up his tent at Bustleton and Frankford avenues and put out his peaches and apples so he could be welcomed by the mayor, a U.S. senator, SEPTA’s boss and other suits as well as schoolchildren and a few members of the Greater Kensington String Band.
“We can’t have a serious event unless we have the Kensington String Band,” Mayor Michael Nutter said.
The mayor and his posse were in Frankford not only to promote the new-ish farmers market, but also to push the city’s healthful-eating initiatives — for youngsters and everybody else.
Healthful eating combats obesity, especially in children, which is a “significant problem” in the city, Nutter said.
“Fifty-seven percent of our children in Philadelphia, sixty-four percent of adults, are either overweight or obese,” Nutter said.
A GROWING POPULARITY
Ten farmers markets have opened in the city in the past 16 months, the mayor said. The goal of the Get Healthy Philly initiative, Nutter said, is to have fresh produce on sale within a 10-minute walk of 75 percent of all Philadelphians.
To humanize that idea, two people dressed as vegetables — a string bean and a carrot — walked around a crowd that included U.S. Sen. Robert Casey Jr., city Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz and SEPTA general manager Joe Casey.
The mayor introduced them and others — all to applause — but then cast a wary eye at the string bean.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the string bean,” he said, “The string bean keeps following us around, but let’s recognize the string bean — and the carrot.”
But after drawing applause for the veggies, Nutter said he didn’t really like either as he looked appreciatively at Fahnestock’s display of fruit.
Fahnestock’s peaches have their admirers in Frankford, but the Lititz, Pa., farmer said they’re just about done for the season. The last of them might have been on sale this week.
Apples — several varieties of them — have been on sale at Fahnestock’s tables for several weeks, and they will remain his big items.
“It will be interesting to see if people switch over to buying apples,” he said later.
Fahnestock, of Hands On the Earth Orchard, and Quentin Shirk, of Quaff Meadows farm in Christina, Pa., have been traveling to Frankford from Lancaster County the past couple months. Shirk couldn’t make the early opening last week.
The market does its business just one afternoon a week — from 2 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. Fahnestock’s offerings are fruit. On his first day, he sold tomatoes and peaches. Shirk has been offering a variety of vegetables as well as fresh flowers. Prices are competitive.
The Frankford farmers market and many others in the city are being promoted by the city and the Food Trust, a non-profit group founded in 1992 whose goal is to make healthful food available to city residents by working with grocers, farmers, policymakers and others.
Working with the city’s Department of Public Health and using a federal grant, the Food Trust is encouraging residents to go to farmers markets by offering $2 in Philly Food Bucks coupons for every $5 they spend in SNAP/food stamp benefits at participating farmers markets.
Fahnestock said he did a pretty good business the day the mayor visited but would prefer to do that kind of volume in four hours rather than all day.
He said his sales have increased since the July opening, but he is concerned they might drop off now that peaches are done. Fahnestock said he realizes volume will pick up and might be better next year.
The addition of vendors might help, he added.
“The way I see things, the market isn’t stable until more vendors are added, and for that to happen, sales have to be going well. At this point, if one of us vendors drops out, we are basically done. The sooner new vendors can be added, the better. I’m afraid we’re not at that point yet,” he said.
Yet, as hopeful as Fahnestock is about the market growing, he has a farmer’s patience.
“This farmers-market thing takes time,” he said. “Our overhead is fairly low, so, unlike a brick-and-mortar building, we don’t need sales to be amazing right off the bat. When you start a new market, you have to invest a couple years in building it. Frankford has shown enough promise that I’m willing to do that.”
And there is one other side of things: Is there a business spillover in Frankford?
People are stopping and buying things at the farmers market, but it’s too soon to even get a feel whether those consumers are stopping and buying elsewhere on Frankford Avenue. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org