Farm-to-table: Farmers markets pop up in Pittsburgh

By Walter Howard / For The Pitt News

This summer, farmers markets are sprouting up like cucumbers and tomatoes.

A mile off the Allegheny River, in the heart of the historic Market District, rests the Pittsburgh Public Market.A throwback to old-school merchandising where customers can meet and buy directly from a diverse group of vendors in one setting, this indoor market is open year round. With more than two dozen vendors daily, the Pittsburgh Public Market is fully capable of meeting a wide slate of tastes with contributions from local farms, bakeries, restaurants and breweries.

The Public Market is one of more than a dozen farmers markets available to locals this summer. Farmers at Firehouse on Penn Avenue represents the city’s largest organic market, this year adding Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream to its roster. Bedner’s Farm and Greenhouse on Bower Hill Road is a family run business with a variety of services, including a winery.

Nancy Bianchi, who works at Bedner’s, said the farm offers a myriad of options, from a friendly staff to homegrown beef and produce.

“It’s all one stop from farm to market,” said Bianchi.

And the list of markets doesn’t end there.

Grow Pittsburgh is a non-profit organization that teaches people how to plant and grow food for themselves and their community. The Citiparks Farmers Markets are open in seven locations between May and June, including Squirrel Hill, East Liberty, South Side, Carrick, Beechview, Downtown and North Side, promising fresh produce, meat, cheese and assorted baked goods.

Often, these places can feel like walking into a picturesque movie scene. Farmers markets boast produce that is fresh and flavorful, with a value on regional promotion, variety, lower prices and, perhaps most emphatically, a healthier selection of food. Also, having so many small vendors in one area helps local businesses capture patrons as they aimlessly stroll through the markets.

There’s a science behind the success of these quaint markets, too.

Dr. Kathleen Zatavekas, a nutritionist at UPMC, said farmers markets have less overhead (transportation of produce from vendors to the marketplace) than regular supermarkets. Whereas supermarkets might ship food from all over the country, at farmers markets, there is less time between when the food is harvested and when it’s on sale. This allows farmers to be more patient with the produce.

“Farmers can watch their produce reach its peak of ripeness, a point in which the fruit or vegetable is fully developed and yields the most vitamins and nutrients,” Zatavekas said.

Overhead also influences price. The less time and resources spent to deliver the goods, the less expensive they will be for the customer. At farmers markets, patrons can buy straight from the person that grew and prepared the food.

Farmers markets present a chance for small business exposure, too.

Deanna Soost, owner of Good L’Oven Cookie Shop in Bellevue, a business that specializes in quirky cookies, said that farmers markets are great for local businesses.

“They support us on slower months,” Soost said.

Between holidays, farmers markets help keep her cookies in the public eye. For example, a customer on his way to buy fruit and vegetables might not be able to help himself from stopping for one of her cookies. She currently sells her goods at the Market Square Farmers Market Concert Series, which runs Downtown every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Something to look for this summer are her traditional cookies and her newer cookie cakes,topped with chocolate chips, Reese’s cups, walnuts or M&Ms.

Farmers markets can also foster a cohesive community dynamic, letting patrons meet and connect with vendors. One can easily pretend they are entering a quaint village where you can hold conversations with small business owners or farmers, rather than the corporate alternative.

If you are from Pittsburgh, local farmers markets represent a chance to support your city and its independent businesses. If you are not from Pittsburgh, they represent a great chance to experience the city and its culture.

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