It’s raining, and I can guess that most of you are probably P.O.ed because it’s supposed to be spring and we keep getting teased with one beautiful day out of an entire rainy week. Remember that saying, though? “April showers bring May flowers?” Well, flowers aren’t the only things that April pulls from the darkness, however, and most Philadelphians and New Jerseyites can see the birth of these changes firsthand simply by taking a walk through their neighborhoods or going for a nice, long drive, which will reveal to many that, hey, the farmers markets are opening up again.
Although there are a few farmers markets that stay open all year round, many markets go into hibernation for the winter only to return each year with new and fresh produce from local producers. These places, however, are suffering just as any other business is due to a favorite topic of discussion amongst the suit and tie folk of the work world: our suffering economy. And most of these critics are telling us consumers to stop fearing the dollar and spend when we can so that we can give the economy the boost that it requires.
So what does this have to do with the farmers market? Patronizing the local markets of our city means that we are putting money back into the hands of the farmer, the local baker, the small shop owner, and perhaps even your neighbor instead of the invisible corporation that we know too little about. By creating a map mashup of all the best farmers markets of the Philadelphia and surrounding area, I am suggesting that we utilize the local producers’ best assets and inspire growth in the communities we live in by frequenting the people who care about supplying us with fresh and quality products.
Of this map mashup I’ve created there is one market that I have to admit is my personal favorite (simply because it’s the one that I have ample opportunity to frequent regularly and also it’s one of the few that is open all year round) – Reading Terminal Market. This market, like a few others on my list, is full of interesting vendors ready to sell off all their goods and services for an affordable price. I spoke to two of these vendors, that just so happen to be a few of my absolute favorites, to find out how the recession is affecting their shops and how much they rely on the everyday consumer shuffling by their stand.
The first is perhaps one of the best patisseries in the area: Flying Monkey Patisserie. The small shop (which consists of a bakery case and a cash register) is run by Rebecca Michaels, a New York native who began her business from her home and has now turned it into one of the best bake shops in Philadelphia. Selling indulgent little delecacies like cupcakes and cookies is not, perhaps, the best line of business to be in during a recession.
“I understand that my cupcakes are a luxury,” says Michaels, “but we’re trying to compensate our lack of income by cutting costs elsewhere.” By baking much of her products at home and relying on large orders for banquets, companies, etc. Michaels is attempting to deal with the decline in the best way she sees fit.
“I’m not going to compromise the integrity of my food, but I’m trying my best to regain my confidence in this economy. It’s tough now, but I’m optimistic.”
Surprisingly, there is a flip side to the monetary madness, or at least there is according to the co-manager of the Fair Food farmstand, Sarah Caine. The Fair Food farmstand is a tiny shop smack in the middle of the always busy market that sells produce, organic meats and poultry, and artisan cheeses from local farmers and producers in the area. This small stand represents a larger coalition that works as a non-profit organization working directly with farmers to consult them about how and where they should sell their food, and surprisingly, their business is doing very well.
“We’ve been working for 5 years now – starting at first as a small once a day table top service here in the market,” says Caine, “and we’ve since expanded. In fact, we’re going to expand our business this coming June to a larger venue.”
So how is this business doing so well?
“We’re an unusual niche market so we really have customers of all economic stratospheres, and I think because of this we haven’t really seen a change in our business’ growth. We’re a seasonal based store too which I think makes a difference,” reflects Cain.
Despite these stores’ differences, both agree that they rely heavily of the patrons who are there to simply browse their products because they are the people who get their names on the street and contribute to having their small businesses recognized throughout the city. By taking time out to visit these markets, you can easily realize what amazing products are readily available to you, and by speaking the people who make them you also realize why you’d rather buy from them.