Great produce and a "real" shopping experience can be had

Great produce and a "real" shopping experience can be had
at these little markets full of city-grown goodies
Posted: July 12, 2013
PHILADELPHIA is lucky to enjoy
a thriving array of farmers
markets. Their popularity,
however, has created an
interesting post-nutritional
phenomenon, at least in my
eyes. Lines of humble tables
piled with gorgeous produce
can turn into mobbed social
gatherings faster than you can
mispronounce "endive."
A shopper lingering over a basket of peaches might get clipped by a luxury stroller pushed by parents
channeling "Fast and Furious 6." A cook surveying the cheese selection runs the risk of a punch to the
solar plexus from a self-proclaimed "locavore" vying for the last bunch of asparagus.
A woman wearing a scarf that cost more than your rent might box you out like Moses Malone to get her
manicured paws on the last of the pawpaws.
What if you just want to buy some vegetables?
Recently, I had the chance to visit three very different farming operations, all of which have a public
retail component operating within Philly city limits. Community-oriented and independently operated,
these farms exist slightly outside the mainstream market hype, but each exudes a strong, sincere
passion for agriculture, education and, of course, eating.
For a change of farmers-market pace, pay one of these places a visit.
Farm 51
"Some weeks, it'll be all these hipsters. Some weeks, it'll be families. Some weeks, it'll be everyone."
There's no typical customer at Farm 51, now entering its fourth season on a remarkably green
Southwest Philly corner.
That energizing sense of unpredictability also can be
applied to what's living and growing on and around this
5,000-square-foot plot maintained by Andrew Olson, a
landscape maintenance supervisor with the Delaware
Center for Horticulture, and Neal Santos, a
Patches of zinnia, dahlia and nigella, which Santos is
quick to twist into impromptu flower arrangements,
sway in dirt a few feet from Chester Avenue, where the
No. 13 trolley lumbers by more often than you'd think.
On the 51st Street side, built beds are home to almostthere tomato and pepper plants.
OPENED: 2009
FIND IT: 51st Street & Chester Avenue
RUN BY: Andrew Olson & Neal Santos
FARM STAND: 4:30-7 p.m. Thursdays,
May to September
Nearly every inch of land inside the chain-link fence - a lot completely filled with trash and rubble when
Olson came here six years ago - is planted to capacity with specialty seeds: Asian eggplants, cylindra
beets, collard greens, green rhubarb, even pear and persimmon trees, all raised without chemicals or
Shady spots are occupied by the farm's handmade rabbit hutch, chicken coop and bee boxes (they're
predicting a record honey harvest this year), plus a teeny pond for "Duck," Farm 51's resident mascot
and the fowl apple of the 51 boys' eyes. (Three cats and three dogs live here, too.)
Olson lived next to the neglected lot for a year before he decided to take his work home with him,
clearing out the mess with the help of neighbors and friends. "The landlord was cool with me doing
whatever with the yard, and having chickens," he said. "That is what sold me on living here."
A City Harvest grant from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society providing upstart urban farmers with
compost, seeds and starter plants made Farm 51, as it stands today, possible.
Olson and Santos have ambitious goals. They hope to frame 51 as an event space after some upgrades
and renovations, but for now their main conversations with the community at large occur on Thursdays.
That's when they recruit enthusiastic "junior gardeners" (neighborhood kids) to help them wheel and
deal just-picked bouquets, cukes, kale, eggplants and fresh-laid eggs for cheaper than you'd ever find in
any organic market.
Neighbor Peter Kromah, who came to America from his native Sierra Leone 30 years ago, makes most of
his weekly purchases via the farm stand, but on this day the avid home cook's in immediate need of
greens for soup. "I admire them. I know exactly the importance of farming, especially their type of
farming. Everything is natural," said Kromah, a licensing analyst who also holds an associate degree in
agriculture. "I call them brothers."