Once upon a time, you couldn’t eat anything you didn’t grow yourself. Then, more recently, you could eat anything you wanted, anytime you wanted—raspberries at Christmas! Asparagus in October!—as long as you didn’t mind that your food had traveled halfway around the world in a cargo hold. Then we got tired of that, of tomatoes that tasted like dust and cherries with insides like mush and apples with that damned little sticker to peel off, and we remembered, vaguely, but with great longing, strawberries that smelled like strawberries (which is to say, like heaven) and little baby beets with flecks of earth clinging to their tips.
Luckily, all through the Dark Ages of Philly’s Argentine-eggplant infatuation, a few brave pilgrims—Mary Seton Corboy of Greensgrow Farms, restaurateur Judy Wicks—kept the locavore flame alive, waiting for us to come home again, to Lancaster County free-range eggs and heirloom Brandywine tomatoes and handcrafted Ely Farm cheeses and ears of sweet corn still warm from the sun.
And now, more and more, farmers’ markets are springing up not just along the back-road routes to the Shore, but in vacant lots in West Philly and under bridges in Phoenixville and on historic landmarks in Center City, putting impeccably fresh produce within everyone’s reach. The unlikely twinned trends of instant gratification and back-to-the-earth are perfectly aligned, and what started as a fad for a handful of chefs and some die-hard granola types has become a way of life for more and more Philadelphians. What, you’re still buying plastic-bagged radishes at the supermarket? Get back to the land! Here, we’ve picked the cream of the farm-market crop, for a buyer’s guide to some of the best.
2nd and Lombard streets
Market stars: Bread and croissants from Wild Flour Bakery (known best as the creators of the Rouge Burger’s roll). Its partnerships with other local artisans—Philadelphia Brewing Company, Art in the Age (which makes the liqueurs Root and Snap)—have yielded some amazing breads. What the regulars know: It’s Sunday morning, and this isn’t a state store—but you can still buy wine. Look for local bottles from Stargazers Winery, Paradocx Vineyards and Penns Woods Winery. May 1st through December 18th, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. Headhousemarket.org.
23rd and Pine streets
Market star: Two Gander Farm honey, including one version harvested from hives kept on rooftops around Philly. Urban farming at its sweetest! Farmer to meet: Bob Kilgore of Brogue Hydroponics, who’s not only known for being the first guy out with tomatoes (just get there early in the day if you want some)—he’s also on the cutting edge of hydroponic growing technology. Ask him about it. Year-round, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.Headhousemarket.org.