You Are Where You Eat

We may never know which came first: the chicken or the egg. But one thing is certain: “Buy local” is here to stay.

Snail crepinette with green garlic scapes and lettuce puree from Talula's TableOriginally built around environmental concerns—and a hot culinary trend—”locavorism” is gaining allies throughout the area, within all sectors of the community. Booming farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) are clear signs that consumers are jumping on the bandwagon, spurred on by the increasing number of menus touting locally produced ingredients. Meanwhile, economists, nutritionists, transportation planners and healthcare providers are pushing to make “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” public policy.

One of the leading trends in the healthcare sector is “Health Care Without Harm,” a nationwide initiative by hospitals to purchase local, sustainable food—higher in nutritional value and healthier ecologically—for its patients and staff.  “Menu for Change” is another program finding its way into mainstream settings. Created to improve the food offered at schools, it was started by yogurt producer Stonyfield Farms in 2003. The initial intent was to tackle childhood obesity by replacing junk food with student-approved natural and organic snacks in vending machines. The overall goal: to make it easy to eat healthy at school.

“Economics, politics, obesity and other health concerns have put food sourcing front and center,” says Marilyn Anthony, Exton-based southeastern regional director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). “Two of our members operate ‘Cooking for Real,’ a local foods and nutrition program that conducts school programs, as well as corporate training, and I believe Westtown School has a teaching garden on the property. I’ve also heard that Radnor School District is looking to do something.”

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The bulk of U.S.-grown produce is shipped from California, Florida and Washington, or from other countries. The average food item travels 1,300-1,500 miles before it ends up on our plates. In between, it’s been confined to a truck, subject to temperature variations, transferred numerous times, probably seen some bugs, absorbed gasoline fumes, passed through a few pairs of germy hands, and stored for up to three weeks.

Not surprisingly, most produce sold in supermarkets is laced with pesticides and other preservatives—chosen more for its ability to withstand industrial harvesting and extended travel than its taste. That’s why consumers wind up with waxy cucumbers, hothouse tomatoes, peaches that never quite ripen, and less variety overall.

If it weren’t for the good fortune of committed restaurateurs and chefs—who essentially serve as PR and marketing consultants for the artisan producers they purchase from—we wouldn’t have a clue as to the origins of our food. Nor would we have access to such a wide range of organically grown, fresh, palate-pleasing ingredients.

If it seems you’re hearing “buy local” as often as you’re hearing “buy organic,” you can thank socially and environmentally conscious chefs Sean Weinberg (Alba), Andrew Deery (Majolica), Bryan Sikora (Talula’s Table), Andrew Masciangelo (Savona), David Clouser (Sola), Patrick Feury (Nectar, Maia), Francis Trzeciak (Birchrunville Store Café, The Inn at Saint Peter’s Village), and plenty of others in Center City. They continue to offer customers a growing variety of unique local and artisanal foods from small-scale producers—stuff like humanely raised meats, organic and specialty fruits and vegetables, and raw milk cheeses.

“Everyone wants to go back 100 years,” says Talula’s Table chef/owner Bryan Sikora. “There’s an artistry that’s missing. Farming, cooking—they’re both a craft, and they deserve equal appreciation.”

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And what happens to our food along the way also matters. “One of our farmers took a calf to be butchered and was devastated by the result,” says Sikora. “Every stage of an ingredient’s life should be respected.”

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As culinary artists, honing in on those purveyors who also value their craft is just as important as preserving heirloom vegetables and conjuring up recipes to showcase unusual vegetables or ensure that lesser-regaled cuts of meat don’t go to waste. Those who tend to the land with their own hands, sell direct and have personal relationships with customers of all cooking abilities have a lot more invested in what goes on your plate than the big commercial farmers do.

Without the chefs, and the farmers’ markets, many small producers would have a limited audience. By creating menus with a local focus, area chefs are taking us on a sort of virtual tour, where we can see, smell and taste the fruits of these artisan farmers’ and purveyors’ labors—and the chefs can have a little fun. Continued efforts to nurture this symbiotic relationship between farmers, chefs and eaters are the cornerstone of sustainable communities. And as it turns out, those heirloom vegetables, micro-greens and specialty meats, poultry and cheeses only hint at the larger economic and societal benefits of locally grown, sustainable agriculture.

Philadelphia has one of the largest networks of farmers’ markets in the nation—and many accept food stamps. Not only does this make good nutrition accessible, it helps small-scale farmers attain a self-sustaining, economically feasible existence outside of “big agriculture.”

Web-based organizations like,, and—along with the West Chester Growers’ Market and the Kimberton, Phoenixville and Oakmont farmers’ markets and PASA—are closing the circle between community farmers and consumers, and finding new ways to help the former stay profitable. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, farmers’ markets increased five-fold from 1996 to 2006.

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But despite a rich agricultural heritage, dwindling open space and escalating land, energy and feed prices have made it harder to stay in the field. It’s not unusual for smaller farmers to work a traditional day job on top of the hours they put in at the farmstead, or to hear that all those hours have amounted to a loss in profits. Land is in short supply, as are the number of people who want to farm it.

One of the ways PASA brings attention to area farmers is by serving up a little fun with its education, hosting events like this year’s 100% Grass-Fed Beef Challenge Cook-off on Aug. 3 (organized by Al Granger, PASA member, cattleman and owner of the Glasbern Inn near Allentown). Other outreach efforts include “field days” like last month’s visit to Chester Springs Creamery and Milky Way Farm to learn about ice cream, robotic milking and on-farm bottling. “Agriculture isn’t in our life right now,” says Anthony. “College training is not agriculture-based; it’s more agribusiness. Startup funding and training is limited, and there’s not enough importance placed on farming as a profession—no recognition of the significance of food in building a community. Everyone has a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, a mechanic. No one talks about who their farmer is.”

During lectures, one of Anthony’s favorite exercises is to draw a farm. Typically, the result is a picture without farmers or livestock. “It’s very disconnected to what we’re doing here,” he says.

On the consumer end, demand is on the move. “People are increasingly educated about this on many levels,” says Sue Kilpatrick, Charlestown Farm’s manager. “We’ve seen a lot of economic growth and consumer interest at [Charlestown Cooperative] and at the [Phoenixville Farmers’] market. We have a three-year waiting list. Another CSA could open up right next door and have no impact on our business.”

The CSA model affords farmers a fair share of profits by eliminating the costs of marketing, packaging and shipping. It also enables cash flow in the early part of the season—when farmers need it the most—to buy seeds and supplies, and pay employees. Because the crop is already sold, there’s little waste, and cutting out the middleman offers a unique connectivity to customers. Farmers’ markets offer an additional outlet and serve as great marketing tools. Both West Chester and Phoenixville markets have experienced significant growth in recent years.

Fair Food, an entity of White Dog Community Enterprises, continues to play an important role in helping farmers gain exposure. One of the best resources you can get your hands on is its Philadelphia Local Food Guide, a free online and print directory featuring farmers markets, CSA farms, retail stores, buying clubs, urban farm stands, restaurants and more. Best of all, it’s free. (To get a copy, contact John Smith at 215-386-5211, ext. 103, or

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Granted, shopping at CSAs and farmers’ markets isn’t going to conquer all of our environmental woes or reverse rising energy costs. But it can bring us one step closer to the land and, ultimately, our community’s well-being. “Buying locally through markets or the CSAs absolutely helps to keep money in the community and helps us to not be so focused on imports,” says Kilpatrick.

Ask any of the farmers we’ve interviewed, and they’ll tell you farming is hard work. And it’s definitely not as glamorous as all those culinary magazines make it out to be. But if you’re the sort who gets a thrill out of watching a seed become a juicy tomato, frying up a freshly laid egg, nibbling on a piece of hormone- and preservative-free bacon, or discovering a newborn calf in the barn, the perks are hard to beat.

Food for Thought

Catching up with Inverbrook Farm’s Claire Murray was harder than we realized, but we were able to cobble together this exchange to glean some pretty neat insights on the importance and impact of keeping it local.
By Dawn E. Warden

MLT: What do you enjoy most about farming?
CM: I love good food, so I really enjoy growing healthy, delicious vegetables. On a more activist and intellectual level, I enjoy connecting the “community”—my CSA members and farmers’ market customers—to their environment. I’ve always been interested in ecology, and growing food is a very concrete way to convey the importance of a healthy environment to a healthy community.

Good soil grows nutritious food, which, in turn, provides nourishment for a healthy person. The importance of environmental issues related to global climate change also become less abstract when weather patterns affect food production. The issues take on a more personal level, and thus seem more important. Finally, on an emotional and spiritual level, I really enjoy the daily miracles found in the garden—the fact that a little seed can produce something like a carrot or tomato is just amazing and so satisfying. I just really enjoy being outside working with the earth. 

MLT: Why do you think it’s important for those in our region to buy local?
CM: Caring about a healthy food system—and buying locally—benefits the local economy and helps to create a healthy environment and preserve open space. As the [tainted] spinach and tomato issues have illustrated, food security is a big deal. The “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” (BFBL) campaign (Murray founded) helps to engage consumers in the awareness and creation of a healthy local food system. To some extent, we’re already experiencing a shortage of local food—the demand from restaurants, CSAs and farmers’ markets has really grown at an amazing rate over the last couple of years. 

MLT: Where has “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” had the greatest impact?
CM: It’s hard to know where the BFBL campaign has had the most impact; chapters are just starting to actually try to measure the effects. Philadelphia is one of the oldest chapters; it’s amazing to see how many engaged and interested eaters recognize the logo and the message. 

MLT: What’s the buzz on Down to Earth?
CM: Last fall, I helped coordinate the second annual Down to Earth exhibit at the Art Scene in West Chester. The mission is to display functional art that enhances the culinary experience, to celebrate the intrinsic value of eating locally grown food using handmade art, and to build community by introducing visitors to their local farmers and regional artists. This year, the juried show featured work from 16 functional potters displayed [atop] the creations of seven fine furniture makers. In addition to the art, the event featured four special events that highlighted the relationship between food, farming and art. My role was to help create the four special events, and I approached each as an opportunity to have attendees leave with a deeper appreciation for the beauty of functional art, as well as an awareness of the importance of a thriving local, sustainable food system to a strong and vital community. The overall theme that emerged was a celebration of connections—connections between the artists, farmers, musicians, moviemakers, venue and audience.

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Faces Behind the Food

Dan Heckler
You might think that someone who leaves a container out for his customers to pay via the honor system is lacking in business sense, but don’t let that fool you. Dan Heckler is both a shrewd businessman and a Jack-of-all-trades when it comes to planting, cultivating, harvesting, maintaining and getting the word out about his organic boutique farm in Pottstown.

“Right now we can’t be beat in this niche,” says Heckler of his aptly named Jack’s Farm.

That might be misconstrued by some as cocky—especially after his last venture, a local home improvement store, lost the battle with large conglomerates like Home Depot and Lowe’s. Even so, a little confidence goes a long way.

“We had a large business, and we tried to promote our customer service, but we got clobbered,” says Heckler, referring to his previous vocation. “This isn’t a cutthroat business. People are willing to share information. When you start to deal with bigger grocers, that’s when the trouble starts.”

Heckler’s formula for success includes succession planting (“You have to have something to sell consistently”), growing a large variety of vegetables and herbs to appeal to both restaurants and home cooks, keeping labor in-house whenever possible, and adding pigs, eggs, homemade ice cream, potted herbs, strawberries and broiler chickens to his offerings.

Currently, Heckler sells directly to restaurants and everyday customers through his farm stand and at Phoenixville Farmers’ Market. A varied inventory keeps him busy year-round, and there’s always a new seed or batch of soil in progress.

Walking with Heckler through the rows of artichokes, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, asparagus, strawberries, radicchio, arugula, claytonia, mizuna, four-plus types of potatoes, five kinds of carrots and more, one is in awe of just how much there is to take care of. And the work rarely happens under perfect conditions. In this bucolic setting, the list of threats is long—rain, drought, foxes, raccoons, deer, groundhogs, beetles, voles, weeds—and potentially expensive.

“Sustainable agriculture means profitable agriculture,” says Heckler. “We’re in our third year; retail-direct and local are working for us,” he says. “But if Jack’s isn’t where I want it to be in another two years, we’ll try something else.”

Still, as Heckler picks and nibbles on just about everything that’s ready to harvest, and waxes poetic about his wood shop, the thrill of putting a little sweat into his work and using all of his prized skills, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be changing jobs anytime soon.

Jack’s Farm, 1370 W. Schuylkill Road, Pottstown; (610) 326-1802,

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Pete Demchur
Air compressor field technician by day and cheese maker by night, Pete Demchur embodies an admirable work ethic. His workday extends well beyond eight hours, and his sleep well below. Breakfast is a cup of tea made in the microwave, the only pick-me-up he needs to jump into whatever stage of cheese making is on the day’s to-do list.

From the cheese room, it’s off to the barn to assess supplies and inspect his growing herd of Nubian goats—prized for their high-quality, high-butterfat milk production—for medical issues. Keeping them in top milk-producing form is crucial. They’re all tagged, but he knows every one by name.

“I follow the cheese, but the animals rule,” says Demchur, who lost 10 pounds in two weeks during this spring’s “baby” season, subsisting on Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and raw goat’s milk in lieu of meals while he bottle-fed every newborn for up to 10 days.

His health, though, is top-notch. “I never get sick, and if anything creeps up, it’s not more than a twinge,” he says. “The antibodies in the milk nip everything in the bud. I haven’t had an antibiotic in 15 years.”

The day job pulls him away at 7:15 a.m., but 11 hours later, he’s sterilizing pots, prepping milk, adding rennet (to curdle the milk), separating the curds and whey, or salting and pressing the curds into a mold. (If there’s a secret ingredient, he’s not sharing.) Afterward, it’s another round of goat visits.

Demchur divides his “chores” with four full- and part-time employees. To keep costs manageable, whatever he can do on his own, he does.

“Last year, I lost money,” says Demchur. “But this year is good. I’m breaking even.”

And downtime doesn’t fit into the marketing plan. “I worked on my recipes for five years,” says Demchur, whose ultra-creamy, tangy chèvre is a favorite among Center City and Chester County chefs. “I started by making ricotta. My buddies and I would make manicotti during the summer to use up all the tomatoes I was growing.”

A couple of years back, Carlino’s was trying to perfect a tortellini recipe for the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City. Finally, after numerous rejections, a batch filled with Shellbark Hollow goat cheese made the cut.

Not bad for a guy who hadn’t tried goat cheese until he started making it.

Shellbark Hollow Farms, 942 Cornwallis Drive, West Chester; (610) 431-0786,

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Lisa Kershner
With 20 acres in production in three different locations (Avondale, Cochranville and Coatesville) and a core crew of four, produce growers Lisa Kershner and husband Ike have your 40-hour workweek beat twofold—minus vacation time. Lucky for them, they love what they do—and what they grow—which, at last count, amounts to 50-plus varieties of apples, 15 varieties of pears, 30-plus varieties of plums and peaches, and six varieties of nectarines. That’s on top of the vegetables they grow for CSA members.

“We grow a huge variety of fruits,” says Kershner. “But over time, we’ve put together a marketing plan and have adjusted so that we’re growing and selling unique fruits that people can’t just buy anywhere. We grow for taste, not for shipping.” 

When they first started back in 1992, North Star Orchard was just a 4-acre parcel, land leased to them by someone they’d met at Longwood Gardens where Ike worked. In 1996, they leased additional land from a grape grower in West Chester. Unable to sate their hunger, they purchased 10 additional acres in Cochranville in 2006. Two long-term leases and ownership of the Cochranville property have helped them stay afloat in a rollercoaster-ride-prone industry.

So has the region’s growing network of farmers’ markets.

“We never wanted to sell wholesale,” Kershner says. “We’ve built the business around farmers’ markets and the CSA (North Star Fruit Explorers).”

North Star has been involved in all the startup markets over the past decade, vending at nine different ones up until this year. The orchard’s expansion has necessitated a drop to seven. It’s a lot of work, but Kershner values the visibility, instant feedback and connectivity. And while the perks aren’t always discernible, sometimes biting into the sweetest, crispiest, juiciest apple she’s ever tasted is all the reward she needs. 

“People ask me all the time where they can buy local food, and this is a perfect area to grow stuff,” says Kershner. “But access is a hurdle. There still aren’t enough convenient markets; open land readily falls into the hands of developers, and there are certain conditions and limitations on what’s usable. The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture has done a lot to increase owner interest to lease or sell their land. We got lucky. It’s very unusual for a smaller grower to get a long-term lease.”

North Star Orchard, 3226 Limestone Road, Cochranville, (610) 593-0314.

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Sue Miller
Sue and Ken Miller have two sons—but their extended family of Holsteins and Jersey cows puts their homestead population at around 162. That’s a lot of mouths to feed at a time when farmers are struggling to turn profits.

But as a member of the Land of Lakes Cooperative, the Millers have a market for their milk. “That’s the upside,” says Sue Miller.

The downside is that, on the “fluid” market, there’s no control over price. Right now, they’re getting about $1.64 on a $4 gallon. “Which is why we started making cheese, and why we try to do as much as we can on our own,” Miller says.

This translates to milking around 77 Holstein cows twice a day, a six-hour process even with automated milking machines; managing the cows; making, marketing and selling the cheese; and growing the feed.

There are lots of good enzymes and bacteria that add to milk’s flavor profile. Pasteurizing prior to making a cheese diminishes the good and the bad, limiting the depth of flavor. Natural pasteurization takes at least 60 days; for raw milk cheeses to be legally salable, they must meet specific age requirements. For Birchrun Blue, it’s 80 days; seven months for Highland Alpine; and 65 days for Fat Cat. (Find out more about these varieties on the Birchrun Hills website.) The cows’ diet, combined with the inherent gastronomic qualities of raw milk and aging, add up to the Millers’ distinctly flavored cheeses.

Raising all-natural veal—something the Millers’ eldest son ventured into as a way of earning money for college—is turning into a profitable side venture, and making chefs like Alba’s Sean Weinberg very happy.

“Farming is definitely a lifestyle, and it’s hard work,”  says Miller. “But all the hardest things are forgotten when you see a newborn calf, or an incredible sunset, or taste the transformation from seed to milk. It brings so much to your life. You forget the heat, the dirt, the long hours, and even the low price.”

Birchrun Hills Farm, 2573 Horseshoe Trail, Chester Springs; (610) 827-1603,

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Liz and Bill Anderson
When Liz Anderson’s family asks what’s for dinner, she doesn’t answer, “We’re having burgers” or “pork on the grill.” Instead, it’s, “We’re having Rod’s burgers or Paul’s pork”—Rod being Rod Weider of Backyard Bison, and Paul being Paul Crivellaro of Countrytime Farm, two of Phoenixville Farmers’ Market’s most popular vendors.

Making a personal connection to area growers and producers, and bridging that gap for consumers, is what Anderson likes most about the “buy local” movement. “Agriculture is culture and food together,” she says. “It requires the human element. Through the farm and the market, we’re helping create a generation of children who will have a heightened appreciation for farmers and where their food comes from.”

The Andersons have always been interested in farming. Liz attended Kimberton Farm School, and Bill grew up growing sweet corn and tending his family’s huge vegetable garden. To hear her tell it, Bill was the catalyst for the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market—initiating contact with the Food Trust, of which they are an affiliate—and the one who keeps the farm running.

“None of this would exist without Bill,” she says. “He’s been the visionary, and he makes things happen.”

In 1990, they purchased a 55-acre farm that had a big house to accommodate them and their extended family—and provided the perfect excuse to start a CSA. “It keeps the land productive, engages the community, and was a great way to involve the whole family,” says Anderson.

Co-leader of the Slow Food Philadelphia Convivium, Anderson also recognizes the benefits of selling other items aside from produce. In 2005, her family rescued a neighboring farm from developers, affording them the opportunity to raise pasteurized livestock—a direct response to the strong demand for high-quality, locally produced meat and dairy products at the cooperative.

“If we don’t continue to grow a variety of food, a lot of breeds and varieties will die out,” says Anderson. “Farmers’ markets help the community. There’s no doubt people are moving here for the market.”

Broadwater and Charlestown Farms, 2432 Charlestown Road, Phoenixville;,

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Buying Local: Things You Should Know

• Fair Food defines “buying locally” as buying farm products grown and/or raised on family farms within a 150-mile radius of Philadelphia.

• Since 1935, the U.S. has lost 4.7 million farms. Fewer than one million Americans now claim farming as a primary occupation.

• By supporting local agriculture, you help to protect your region’s farmland from urban sprawl and development.

• Protection of local farmland means protection of open spaces, natural ecosystems and biodiversity.

• Buying local food helps to reduce dependence on foreign oil needed to ship food thousands of miles, thus cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.

• Family farmers who sell their products through national and international distribution channels receive little if any profit due to the costs of transport, packaging and advertising. Buying directly from local farmers affords them a larger portion of your food dollar.

• Buying food from small, local producers can help reduce the risk of contamination.

• Buying local reduces the portion of your food dollar going to corporate agribusiness and ensures that local farmers get their fair share of your food dollar.

Information adapted from

Eat Local

Area restaurants that use seasonal, regional ingredients.

Alison at Blue Bell, 721 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell; (215) 641-2660,  
Birchrunville Store Café, 1403 Hollow Road, Birchrunville; (610) 827-9002,  
Blackfish, 119 Fayette St., Conshohocken; (610) 397-0888,  
The Inn at Saint Peter’s Village, 3471 Saint Peter’s Road, Saint Peter’s Village; (610) 469-2600,  
Maia, 789 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova; (610) 527-4888,  
Majolica, 258 Bridge St., Phoenixville; (610) 917-0962,  
Meridith’s, 10 Leopard Road, Berwyn; (610) 251-0265,  
Nectar, 1091 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn; (610) 725-9000,  
The Orchard, 503 Orchard Ave., Kennett Square; (610) 388-1100,  
Restaurant Alba, 7 W. King St., Malvern; (610) 644-4009,  
Savona, 100 S. Gulph Road, Gulph Mills; (610) 520-1200,  
Sola, 614 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, (610) 526-0123  
Sovana Bistro, 696 Unionville Road, Kennett Square; (610) 444-5600,  
Talula’s Table, 102 W. State St., Kennett Square; (610) 444-8255,  
The Whip, 1383 N. Chatham Road, Coatesville; (610) 383-0600,

And where to get those ingredients:

Ardmore Farmers’ Market, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays; 6 Coulter Ave., Suite 1000, Ardmore, (610) 896-7560
Conshohocken Farmers’ Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays thru October; Fayette and West Hector streets
Kennett Square Farmers’ Market, 2-6 p.m. Fridays thru October; 100 block of East State Street, Kennett Square, (610) 444-8188  
Lancaster County Farmers Market, 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday all year; 389 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne; (610) 688-9856,
Linvilla Orchards, open all year, hours vary; 137 W. Knowlton Road, Media; (610) 876-7116,  
Maple Acres Farm Market, 2656 Narcissa Road, Plymouth Meeting; (610) 828-7395,  
Oakmont Farmers Market, 3-7 p.m. Wednesdays thru Aug. 27, 2-6 p.m. Sept. 3-Nov. 26; Oakmont Municipal Parking Lot, 2419 W. Darby Road, Havertown,
Pete’s Produce Farm, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9-5 p.m. Sunday thru October; 1225 E. Street Road, Westtown; (610) 399-3711,    
Phoenixville Farmers’ Market, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays thru Nov. 22; Bridge Street and Taylor Alley, Phoenixville,
Swarthmore Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays thru November; in front of the Swarthmore Co-op, 341 Dartmouth Ave., Swarthmore,
West Chester Growers Market, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays thru December; North Church and West Chestnut streets, West Chester, 

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