Here come farmers to Convention Center

at the Convention Cen- ter Annex. The aim is to expand awareness of the scope of the local food community.
at the Convention Cen- ter Annex. The aim is to expand awareness of the scope of the local food community. (The festival is Sunday)
Posted: March 22, 2012

Farmers are planning a takeover of the Convention Center Annex, the snazzy new part with the glass wall fronting Broad Street, for one day only on April 1.

Frankly, one day is all the Philly Farm & Food Fest can afford for an inaugural event that everyone involved hopes will be repeated annually.

The family-friendly Fest will be open to the public (admission $15, free for children 12 and under).

Any profits will benefit the two nonprofit agencies sponsoring the Fest: Fair Food (fairfoodphilly.org) and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASAfarming.org).

Ann Karlen of Fair Food and Marilyn Anthony of PASA have it all planned.

The whole point of the Fest is to expand awareness of the scope of the local food community, Anthony said.

"We are really targeting families with children," she said, "because we know if kids get excited about food, that changes everything. It changes the dynamic at the family dinner table, at school, and more."

To that end, activities include a scavenger hunt.

Open 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., the Fest will feature 106 exhibitors - area farmers, for sure - plus locals who make artisan food products, a category that ranges from gluten-free brownies to organic detergents, bath and body soaps, jams, honey, sustainably grown meat, dairy, and eggs.

Demonstrations and hands-on activities for adults and kids round out the day.

When the call went out to prospective vendors last month, six that make frozen desserts signed up immediately, Anthony said. "We've got gelato, ice cream, and popsicles covered."

Contract restrictions with Aramark, which has the food service agreement with the Convention Center, make it impossible for vendors to sell prepared meals at the Fest, Karlen said. Vendors may offer samples at their booths and sell products to take home.

"Five years ago we could not have done this event at all, much less had this response from exhibitors," Anthony said. "We've been turning people away for weeks."

Among the vendors are old friends, such as Daisy Flour, whose wheat is farmed without pesticides or synthetic additives, and Zsa's Gourmet Ice Cream.

Zsa (actually Danielle Jowdy, whose childhood nickname was Zsa) debuted at the Food Trust's Night Market in Mount Airy in August. She buys from local farmers for her handmade ice creams and fruit sorbets in flavors that change with the harvest.

Another is Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters, a West Chester-based company started in 1986 by John Sacharok, who helped establish the Wawa brand before forming his own brand of coffee that's hand-roasted in small batches. Golden Valley is fair-trade and "bird friendly," a certification by the Smithsonian Institution's Migratory Bird Center. A step above shade-grown, the bird-friendly designation means the roasters assist the Smithsonian's conservation, preservation, and humanitarian efforts.

The New Growth Project is indeed new for 2012. From the creative mind of Nic Esposito, an activist, community organizer, and writer (his novel, Seeds of Discent, came out in 2011), New Growth aims to sell affordable local produce to as many Philadelphians as possible through a CSA (community-supported agriculture), citywide farmer's markets, community farmstands, and sales to restaurants.

The project is an outgrowth of Cary Borish's Marathon Master Street Farm (at 27th and Master), with the significant addition of produce from community farms and backyard gardeners. Maintaining a steady source of crops for buyers and reliable income stream for growers isn't easy, but that's the kind of challenge Esposito lives for. (nic@newgrowthproject.org)

And Spotted Hill Farm goat products will be at the Fest as well. The Berks County farm raises mini-Nubian goats and makes goat's milk body lotions, lip balms, and shampoos, as well as yarn from its Finn sheep.

PASA, launched in 1992, focuses on strengthening the land itself as well as growers and food distributors. Among other projects, PASA recently started a kind of land-lease program that helps young people new to farming get started on land placed in conservancy.

Fair Food runs a farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market, consults with culinary professionals, and connects area farmers with local institutions.

Fair Food actually came to life in 2001, when Judy Wicks owned the White Dog Cafe and was intent on spreading her philosophy of using locally grown, sustainable foods beyond 34th and Sansom Streets.

Wicks hired Karlen to connect local farmers supplying the White Dog to a larger marketplace of restaurants and stores. In 2009, Fair Food was spun off as an independent organization and Wicks, who has since sold the White Dog, continues to work on making business more humane on a global scale.


Additional information about the Fest is at phillyfarmfest.org.

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