The first Philadelphia Farm Festival was held in the Convention Center to highlight the importance of local, sustainable foods.
Tomatoes, corn, carrots, peas, strawberries, watermelon, apples and peaches – May through October, farmer’s markets across Philadelphia offer these fresh, local choices.
For many Philadelphians, these fruits and vegetables are the only local foods they have access to. However, there are thousands of more fresh, local options beyond the standard fruits and vegetables, many of which were on display at the first Philadelphia Farm and Food Fest on Sunday, April 1.
The festival, held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, showcased these local options, featuring more than 100 vendors, including local and organic farmers, producers, businesses and nonprofit institutions. The fest is the first of its kind in Philadelphia and was a collaboration between Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.
Inspiration for the fest came from a similar event hosted by Fair Food. For the past seven years, “Local Buyer, Local Grower” has been an event for buyers to meet with local farmers. Anne Karlen, director of Fair Food, said she wanted to take the premise of “Local Buyer, Local Grower” and open it to the public, not just commercial buyers.
“[Karlen] wanted to take it to the next level,” event organizer Marilyn Anthony said. “It’s about broadening peoples’ minds about eating locally – it’s not just fruits and vegetables in the summer.”
The outcome of the “next level” was a five-hour event open to the general public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by the Buyer’s Reception, similar to “Local Buyer, Local Grower” and strictly for farmers and businesses. When entering the fest, attendees were greeted with an eco-friendly bag for free goodies and some initial food samples from Whole Foods and Chipotle.
While the Convention Center may not have the usual look of a farmer’s market with its warehouse-like atmosphere, on Sunday, bustling with exhibitors marketing, foodies sampling and children running around, it had all the smells and sensations of a local shopping market and just as many items to try.
At the festival, John and Kira’s offered gourmet truffles, SOLEA showcased safe cleaning products without bleach and Wild Flour Bakery featured hearty breads. In addition to these novelties, traditional regional options, such as the East Goshen’s Farmer’s Market were at the Fest.
Exhibitors were available to discuss their product and answer questions.
Donna Levitsky owns Shellbark Hollow Farms in West Chester with her brother, where they produce and sell goat cheese. She’s no stranger to farmer’s markets, as she said she began participating in a market in the East Goshen Township Park last year. She said the market includes approximately 35 vendors, and that she relies on the market for fresh supplies for her business.
“It’s very important that people buy locally and support the farmers,” Levitsky said. “It was very important for us to have a market near us because eating local is right around the corner from coming to East Goshen Market.
Laura Yaghoobian, of Wild Flour Bakery, emphasized the economic aspect of eating locally.
“Sustainability and supporting the local economy – when times are tough, when you’re struggling to get jobs, when you’re buying food from local locations, you’re helping them and your local economy,” Yaghoobian said.
In addition to the exhibitors, several educational workshops, for both children and adults, were conducted. One child-friendly event was the “ABC’s of Beekeeping”, in which the Beekeepers Guild discussed their passion for bees. Adult workshops included “Tasty Small Grains,” which discussed grain production in the Northeast region.
Approximately 1,000 tickets were sold for the festival, and attendees came from across the Philadelphia region, each with an individual reason to check out the Fest.
South Philly native David Lewis said he came out to finally start eating healthy.
“I wanted to eat better and I thought this would be a good opportunity to see what’s local,” Lewis said.
Celis Ray, of North Philly, said she came to the festival for gardening help. She left with some snap pea seeds, and added that the festival workers were very helpful and that he’d found what he was looking for.
“I wanted to see exactly what they had,” Ray said. “I’m growing my garden this year so I wanted to see if there were any tips or anything like that, that I could use.
While there were many reasons for individuals to attend, most left the event with more than just filled stomachs and sustainable goods, but also left with a better understanding of local eating.
Organizers designed the event with this type of education in mind.
“Over time, it will change attitudes and perception of eating locally and raise awareness of a new movement where people chose local eating more often,” Karlen said. “We hope to offer education so that people think more about what they eat.”
Looking to the future, organizers plan for Philadelphia Food and Farm to be an annual event. That gives attendees a year to check out and further explore all the local venders they tried at the festival.
“Year one, you learn the ropes – we’re planning on it being bigger and better next year,” Anthony said.
Emily DiCicco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.