Northeast Times

The mayor’s feeling peachy

His push for Phil­adelphi­ans to eat food that’s good for them brings him to a farm­ers mar­ket in Frank­ford.

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.

APPLE DE­LIGHT

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.

HOW’S BUSI­NESS?

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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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