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Chef Steve Poses: A Trip Through the Clark Park Farmers’ Market

The Saturday Clark Park Farmers' Market (photo by R. Kennedy for GPTMC)

The following is an excerpt from a blog post by local restaurateur and caterer Steve Poses. This is one in a series of features he’s running on area farmers’ markets. To read the full text on his blog, click here.

Clark Park is located in the Spruce Hill Neighborhood of West Philadelphia’s University City District. The area was originally colonial farmland. Perhaps our Founding Fathers enjoyed just-picked corn from here? As Philadelphia grew and modernized, this area evolved into an early street-car suburb. The Park itself was established in 1895 and sits on land once occupied by Satterlee Hospital which during the Civil War was our country’s second largest. Sixty thousand Union soldiers were treated at the hospital.

photos by S. Poses

Today, the nine acre park, located between Baltimore and Woodland Avenues and 43rd and 45th Street, provides both green space and a community focal point. Clark Park sits at the southwestern edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus and the medical complex that runs along Civic Center Boulevard back toward University Avenue. Adding to the academic underpinning of the area is the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia which sits adjacent to Clark Park.

The Clark Park Farmers’ Market is located along 43rd Street between Baltimore and Woodland. It’s easily accessible by bus or subway surface trolley. There is also plenty of convenient and free street parking. This market is an essential component of the neighborhood. It is where neighbors find moments of bonhomie. Plus it also has amazing local food.

Farmers’ Markets are generally not the random collection of farmers and food artisans that they may appear to be. They are put together by a “sponsor/organizer” to include a thoughtful cross-section of stands. Clark Park is organized by The Food Trust and includes a wonderful mix of about 25 stands. Smaller markets will, of necessity, have a more abbreviated mix.

The mix of farm stands will include an “organic farm stand.” Typically, an Amish farmer or two is included.

This Amish farm stand offered a hot summer’s day refreshment of iced cold Blackberry Juice, Peppermint Tea and Root Beer by the cup, pint or quart.

A bakery stand is de rigueur — gluten free offerings a plus. Some farmers’ markets including Rittenhouse Square have gluten-free only stands.

A fruit specialist is a little like the Macy’s — the anchor store in the mall.

Ideally a stand will provide grass-fed beef and other meat and poultry. Landisdale Farm provided all of the grass-fed beef used in today’s Homegrown Philly Cheesesteak give-away at the LOVE Park Farmers’ Market.

Someone needs to provide the dairy products.

Fruit and vegetables are so easy to merchandise. They are things of beauty. Someone needs to figure out how to more effectively merchandise meat and poultry. A slab of beef and a raw chicken just don’t have the appeal of heirloom tomatoes.

Farm-grown flowers add color to the market and neighborhood households. Some farm stands have “outlets” at several neighborhood markets including this Amish flower stand’s Rittenhouse Square outpost where I have frequently buy zinnias and other summer flowers for home. On Saturdays you can buy Market Day Canele at Clark Park and Rittenhouse Square and at Headhouse on Sundays. It’s a unique product and they are the only farm stand “canele” game in town.

The Clark Park Farmers’ Market is sponsored by the University City District, a non-profit “Special Services District” modeled after the very successful Center City District, Phildadelphia’s first SSD. The market includes a produce stand from University City High School.

I am always on the look-out for the unusual — here late July garlic scapes and spicy dandelion greens along with early hard squash.

A pet peeve is that few farm stands have signs announcing who they are and where they are from. The overall look of farmers’ markets would be improved if each stand were “required” to have a sign that reflects the specialness of what they offer. This sign from Fahnestock Fruit Farm is the exception.

These tomatillas are grown on two acres at The Schuykill Center for Environmental Education in Northwest Philadelphia by Urban Girls Produce. Farm stands such as these — with unique stories — add a layer of interest to farmers’ markets. However, absent seeing Urban Girls Produce on the pricing tag, the story requires some investigation. In fact, every farm stand has a story, but, in general, there is little or nothing at the stand seemed to tell their story — except, of course, the farmers and artisan. You could say that the fresh food speaks for itself. But I don’t agree. And, hopefully, the farnmers and artisans are too busy to chat. It would be far better if these stories were more clearly “displayed” the customers through signage.

A bonus attraction at farmers’ markets are food trucks. Some have them and some do not. Saturdays, Clark Park boasts the roving Honest Tom’s Taco Shop where breakfast tacos available through lunch or until they run out.

An underlying principle of the At Home Project is that home entertaining can be a joy and not a chore if you plan ahead and spread your tasks over time. Shopping is a key part of home entertaining and what could be more joyful that spending a summer Saturday shopping at this farmer’s market stand.

Or bringing a basket of these beauties home along with the story of Urban Girls Produce.

What about the joy of biting into a sweet tree-ripened white nectarine or a Ginger Gold apple, the first apple of apple’s long season.

Or just pausing a moment to look at a basket of vibrant sweet and hot peppers. There they are, just looking for a good home.
I hope you get out this week to your neighborhood farmers market — or someone elses neighborhood farmers’ market. Buy lots of stuff, bring it home, make a meal and share with friends and family.

Clark Park Farmers’ Market operates May through November on Thursdays from 3 to 7 PM and Saturdays from 10 AM to 2 PM. Some intrepid stands operate November through April on Saturdays from 10 AM to 1 PM.

Steve Poses is founder of Frog Commissary. A local restaurateur, caterer and author, it’s his goal to increase home entertaining. Steve’s latest book, At Home by Steve Poses: A Caters Guide to Cooking and Entertaining, was released in 2009. It’s the inspiration for At Home Online, a website and blog designed to make home entertaining as easy as possible with tips, guides and recipes. Click here to subscribe to his e-newsletter. Steve can also be found on Twitter as @SPoses. Click here to follow him.

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