The closing of the Fair Food Farmstand is a big loss for Reading Terminal Market, which found its strongest advocate and showplace for small farm organic produce, humanely raised meats, dairy, and local artisanal food producers of all sorts at the stand, from an extensive selection of regional cheeses to Castle Valley Mill grits, local pickles, Jersey Fresh tomatoes, and Oma teas — not to mention the tiniest Brussels sprouts, organic cranberries, and my annual Thanksgiving turkey.
It was the year-round one-stop shop with deep local roots that was sorely needed — and it was unique in 2003 when Ann Karlen opened it with a couple of folding tables and a freezer chest in the market’s Center Court. As the nonprofit grew into larger permanent spaces, it filled the winter void when the outdoor farmers’ markets went quiet.
But as Fair Food’s management put it in the closure announcement, the local food movement has grown to the point now where competition everywhere has made their profitability a challenge.
The continued rise of Whole Foods and now a Mom’s Organic Market nearby have obviously cut into that customer pie, even more as those corporate powerhouses finally begin to source more local (not just organic) products. But there was always a sense of careful curation and long-standing relationships with both local producers and customers at Fair Food that can’t quite be replicated in a large store setting.
So now where to turn?
For me, the new Riverwards Produce Market in Fishtown (2200 E. Norris St.) is the best replacement in terms of its well-rounded collection of great local ingredients, from fresh Little Noodle Co. pastas to Lost Bread Co. loaves and Primal Supply meats, and a devoted neighborhood crowd that I think has a chance to support it. It has a professional polish that feels like Fair Food 2.0. The Green Aisle Grocery stores have done this, too, albeit on a much smaller, boutique scale.
Meanwhile, the region’s strong long-standing food co-ops remain a vital resource. The many locations of Weavers Way. The Swarthmore Co-op. Mariposa in West Philly. Creekside in Elkins Park. Essene in South Philly (which, like many of the others, also carries Seven Stars). The network of Kimberton Whole Foods.
And there’s promise of more. Here are two bright new sources I’m really looking forward to: Ann Karlen plans to carry forward the local cheese collective she assembled at Fair Food with her own (still unnamed) company, which will sell both wholesale and retail. Karlen also has a solid tip on where I may be getting my Thanksgiving turkey next year: “the new Primal Supply butcher shop [opening by May at 1538 E. Passyunk Ave.] will have you covered.”