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Farmers' Markets in Berks County
Fresh Farm Produce
I live in a strange place: Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania. Why strange? Strange because it has changed so rapidly over the last 25 years. When I first regularly spent time here starting in the 1970’s, it consisted of a city (county seat) at its center and then a few villages sprinkled throughout the rest of its diamond-shaped boundary ( yes – this is the county of John Updike’s Rabbit series.) Everything else was farmland. Active farmland.
This agrarian county was so peaceful and wholesome that it was pretty BORING to the high school youth, who frequently moved away the first chance they got. But then they somehow wandered back to raise their families. It was very common to drive past miles and miles of cornfields to get to anywhere. But things started changing, slowly, and initially on a small scale.
Change is not necessarily Improvement
Even twenty-five years ago in the mid-1980’s,one did not use the word “suburbs” for Berks County. There was big-city Reading, and then there were Leesport and Kutztown and Mohnton and Shillington and Mt. Penn and Bernville and Birdsboro and Hamburg and Morgantown. Each was separated from the other by fields and farms. Manure was a springtime fragrance along our 2-lane roads. However since that time, real estate developers have persuaded farm families to transform their farms into housing tracts. We now have the vinyl siding suburban houses and townhouse/condo horror zones. We now use the word “suburbs.”
Besides real estate housing developers, does anyone else deserve blame? Commercial lenders? Yes. They kept supporting loans for new strip malls or shopping centers while good commercial properties stood vacant. The Chamber of Commerce? Probably. I served on a committee in the Chamber and could see that its vision of “good” or “progress” was to transform Berks County into a clone of King of Prussia, an upscale, expensive, highway-riddled, fast-paced, area in suburban Philadelphia. The Chamber could not see the goodness that Berks County had, and so committed itself to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Should we blame residents? Yes. They lusted after the lifestyle of the afore-mentioned Philadelphia suburb.
We now have barely any farmland. Instead, there are more malls, and parking lots. There are national chain stores instead of the independent locally-owned bookstore, hardware store and fabric shops. There are franchises of every fast- and medium-fast food chain. And the highways – bleccch! Lots of macadam covers former vegetation. Fields and woods are becoming scarce.
Guess what Berks' Suburbanites want?
Curiously, there is a new trendy shopping venue that Berks County communities are racing to create. Guess what? They want Farmers’ Markets! We have always had a few small indoor halls which open one to three days per week for farmers and vendors to sell. But to be truly au courant, our boroughs and townships must have an open air market with local, and even organic, produce.
The Old and the New
The Leesport Market on Wednesdays is long-standing.
Also, Muhlenberg Township’s Market on Fifth Street seems as solid as ever.
The Shillington Market has suffered some re-locating road bumps, but still operates on Thursdays and Fridays.
The city of Reading Market seems to have folded.
Now, West Reading has run a successful all-organic market on Sundays for about 4 years.
Not to be outdone, the borough of Wyomissing had to start a market. It runs Wednesday through Friday.
Exeter Township has also entered the fray and is moving its date from Sunday to Saturday.
I wish them all great success!
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Aprons for barbecueing and other cooking. Cat mugs and apparel.
Text and photos copyright 2011 Maren Morgan.