What's in a Name?

Don’t be fooled by stores with a global supply chain that claim to be ‘farmers markets’

By Danie Greenwell

Walk into a supermarket and you will find yourself caught up in a whirl of “local,” “organic” and “farm fresh” merchandising. These words are intended to make us feel better about our purchases, but it is clear they have lost meaning.

Shifts in meaning, grammar and syntax are to be expected, but words are also intentionally misused by marketers to sell products. There was a point when the term “local food” had a clear(ish) definition: It was food grown on small, family owned farms and transported short distances by the farmers or by small distributors who kept the growers’ best interests in mind. 

Bypassing large corporations meant farmers saw a greater share of the proceeds, which allowed for the preservation of family farmland and a system that strengthened the local economy.

But once “local food” became popular, marketers from huge frozen-food companies with global supply chains wanted in, and the market was flooded with false advertising. Suddenly, those of us who spent years promoting “local” found ourselves on the defensive—we had to explain why our food is different, because the phrase that started the movement had been devalued.

Another phrase being devalued is “farmers market.” According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a farmers market is “two or more farmer-producers that sell their own agricultural products directly to the general public at a fixed location, which includes fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and grains.” According to state law in Maine, “‘farmers market’ means a building, structure or place used by two or more farmers for the direct sale of farm and food products to consumers.” The statute includes a list of agricultural categories. Sadly, we have no such legal protection for farmers in Pennsylvania, Delaware or New Jersey.

In Philadelphia, a farmers market could be a weekly outdoor market that fits the current USDA definition, the 9th Street Italian Market, the Reading Terminal Market, an organic grocery store or even a truck parked on the side of the road filled with boxes of produce grown in South America.

You may ask why it is important that farmers markets remain producer-only markets. 

Not doing so means that customers have no idea where their food was grown, the farmers have not been paid a fair value for their products and the products are of lower quality. To travel thousands of miles, products are picked unripe and ripened artificially. They pass through multiple hands and risk contamination at each handling point. Nutrients and vitamins are lost during shipment and storage. 

These foods are more healthful than heavily processed ones, but companies should promote their produce without devaluing the term “farmers market.”

There will soon be a new chain grocery store in South Philadelphia. The store’s title inaccurately uses the term “farmers market.” There are no farmers at the store, and the people selling food were not involved in its production. And this store is not the only one appropriating the term for its own benefit. In my research, I found several regional markets and bazaars with the name “farmers market” in their title that had few or no farmers.

Informed consumers realize stores that use “farmers market” in their branding misrepresent their commitment to farmers. But there are plenty of shoppers who do not. Farm to City’s efforts to promote farmers markets as lucrative venues for growers have been devalued to create more profits for companies that do not give farmers ethical prices for their products. In turn, farmers currently making income to support their families and maintain their farmland may lose that ability if real farmers markets go under.

There are actions you can take to make changes. Start by contacting companies that inaccurately label themselves farmers markets and have them explain why they are engaging in false advertising. You can also contact local and state representatives and ask for a statute to protect the term. Educating yourself is also key: Learn phrases related to the local food movement and insist on their accurate use. Finally, shop at a real farmers market and meet the people who grow the food you feed to your family.

The more you shop at the farmers market, the easier it is to pick out who is honestly selling you locally grown food from small family farms, and who is simply trying to cash in on the local food movement.

Danie Greenwell works with Farm to City, a business whose mission is to “unite communities, families and farmers year-round through good, locally grown food.”

Growing Together

Dakota Borneman Murtha, the daughter of Blooming Glen Farm farmers Tricia Borneman and Tom Murtha, smells freshly pulled fennel. | Photos by Daryl Pevet

Blooming Glen Farm is a labor of love for farming couple

Ask Tricia Borneman and Tom Murtha of Blooming Glen Farm how they met, and the couple credit a well-crafted mixtape. But almost 20 years since they first got their hands dirty together while urban farming as college students in Philadelphia, it’s clear that farming has been a strong thread running throughout their relationship.

“I think we were just looking for something to do outside together that felt meaningful and that we were passionate about,” Borneman says. “The ideas of working for ourselves and working with the earth gelled together in farming.”

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Super Model


Philly Foodworks promises flexibility for consumers, a market
for small food producers, and a bridge 
from rural to urban

Although we talk about community supported agriculture (CSA) frequently in the pages of Grid, it’s a relatively new business model. First introduced into the U.S. in 1986, it offered a brilliant solution to a problem farmers regularly faced: cash flow. By encouraging consumers who wanted fresh produce to pay farmers in advance, the model bridged a gap in the winter and early spring when farmers had little to sell. When crops are ready to be harvested, consumers get a weekly box—a share of a wide variety of the freshest fruits and vegetables you can buy. It’s a big win for both the eater and farmer. 

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Subsidized CSAs make farm fresh produce available to an economically diverse population

Raspberries from the Pennypack Farm CSA. | Photo from PennypackThere is a thrill that comes with receiving a CSA share. What treasures does it hold? What cooking adventures will it inspire? These small pleasures are not available to everyone – for many families the added cost of a farm share doesn’t fit into the weekly grocery budget. Andy Andrews, farm director at Pennypack Farm, had this realization in 2007, when the farm began setting up at the Clark Park farmers market in West Philadelphia.

“It was obviously a very different area than Horsham (where the original Pennypack pick up is located) with a very diverse base of customers,” Andrews says, “many of whom were using EBT and SNAP as payment.”

In 2011, Pennypack started a farm share drop-off specifically accessible to a lower income population. This program offers small shares – five items of produce for $10 per week. This is about 50 percent cheaper than their regular, six-month CSA. Now in its third year, this popular program is subsidized by the Walk Against Hunger, (happening this Saturday, April 13th) which covers half of the cost.

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Vegging In: What I learned from my roommate’s quest to eat sustainably

Story by Colleen Davis Illustration by Adrienne Langer AFTER DECADES OF BEING A PRETTY RESPONSIBLE CITIZEN, I felt I’d traveled about as far as I could on the path to eating and living sustainably. Others around me were more zealous, but they were yoga teachers and gardeners whose extreme eating habits grew from their career choices. I never felt compelled to join them in becoming a vegan or buying a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. It looked like too much work.

Then I met Nick, a young California lawyer, who rented a room in my house when he moved to Philly. Along with a small number of boxes, he brought a surfboard, a bicycle and a staunch commitment to eating in a way that helped the environment. A few months after arriving, Nick bought a guitar and an organic CSA share.

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Volunteer and Sustain: LFFC seeking volunteers to host CSA deliveries in Philadelphia

Image via www.lancasterfarmfresh.com/csa/defaultWant to help local farmers connect with Philadelphia customers? The Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative (LFFC) is recruiting enthusiastic volunteers to host weekly deliveries of fresh organic produce to neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

The LFFC is holding its “Site Host Information Session” Feb. 15 at Ultimo Coffee (1900 S. 15th St.) from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. for those interested in volunteering. Volunteers would host a weekly pick-up site at their home or business as part of LFFC’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

The LFFC is a nonprofit organic farmers’ cooperative of more than 75 farmers in Lancaster County, Pa. The CSA program allows area residents to purchase a subscription before the season begins, to help the farm operation when start-up costs are high and farm operation is at its lowest. In return, members receive a weekly box of fresh and nutritious produce.

The event will consist of informative presentations and a question and answer session. Both prospective and current volunteers are encouraged to attend.

For further information contact Evan Miller at 717-656-3533 or csa@lancasterfarmfresh.com

Also, registration is open for winter, spring and summer CSA shares.

Endless Summer

For all but the most dedicated locavores, facing January and February with little more on the plate than root vegetables and storage crops can be daunting. “They get to the point where they can’t face another turnip,” says Adam Gordon, co-founder of Winter Sun Farms Greater Philadelphia. “So they pop down to a conventional grocery store and start buying stuff from California, Mexico and beyond.”
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Farm Profile: Taproot Farm

Taproot Farm has only been in business for one year, but farmer George Brittenburg has been growing much longer than that. While attending college in Pittsburgh, he was an impassioned advocate for urban agriculture and community garden projects. “For me, the local food movement became very important,” he says. “This farm was a dream we’d had for a long time.”
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