Spring Produce at Clark Park Farmers Market

Even though spring has sprung, it will be weeks before seasonal veggies are available.

By Dan Packel
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 24, 2009

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Leafy greens are a sign that spring -- and the farmers markets -- have arrived.

At Clark Park in West Philadelphia, while the trolleys clatter up and down Baltimore and Chester Avenues, the same coterie of farmers and assistants stand behind the tables covered with root vegetables and greens. The heavy parkas have been exchanged for lighter jackets, but for the shoppers, there are few surprises. It's the paradox of the early spring. While the weather has changed—and with it, attire, attitudes and expectations—the new crops are still in the ground, not at the market.

On a recent Saturday at Clark Park, one of two farmers markets in the city that operates year round, one new vendor had arrived. But even the wares brought by Bob Kilgore, who had made the two-hour drive from York County earlier that morning, were—with the exception of some cucumbers—all leafy greens. "This is our first trial in Philadelphia markets," said Kilgore who owns Brogue Hydroponics with his wife Nancy.

Even if Kilgore didn't have a new category of produce that set him apart from the other vendors, he still offered a wider than usual range of greens. Along with the usual suspects of arugula and spinach, one could find fresh cilantro, basil and watercress and tender, almost buttery Bibb lettuce, with a slight touch of bitterness. Six hydroponically equipped greenhouses allows Brogue to offer fresh greens all year.

Ironically, the prevalence of greenhouse-grown crops is one reason that the distinction between winter and spring is muted. "Without our greenhouse, we wouldn't have our greens until the middle of May," noted Phylann Russell of Keystone Farm, referring to the romaine lettuce, spring mix, and spinach that her farm grows year-round in the confines of the indoor space.

Still, according to Russell, one sign of spring is just about to hit the market, joining the greens, white and red potatoes, onions and carrots she currently has available. "Even though we're further north, we'll soon have spring onions, swiss chard, kale and radishes." How far north? Keystone Farm is just 12 miles below the New York border, three and a half hours away from Clark Park.

But even that next wave remains little more than a variation on the current selection: roots and greens, albeit different roots and greens. It's almost sad to note that the produce scene isn't really going to get flashy until the middle of June. "By then we'll have strawberries, zucchini and sugar snap peas," said Rachel Landis of Landisdale Farm in Lebanon County, a little east of Harrisburg. "Then the new potatoes by the 4th of July."

And my much anticipated farm share? When it gets going in June, it might not even have the new arrivals immediately. "At first, if there's not enough of an item to go around, it doesn't go into the farm share," said Landis. "People come to the market, see them, and ask, 'Where are my peas?'"

I'm willing to be assuaged by Landis's assurance that it's all growing. Her recommended combination of fresh sugar snap peas and new potatoes certainly sounded appealing, even if it won't be on the table for more than two more months.

Applications for Landisdale Farm's Community Supported Agriculture Farm Share are being accepted until April 30. Visit http://landisdalefarm.com

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