Pittsburgh-area farmers markets grow

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When Maria Almone, 92, of Brookline, found out that strawberries from Jodikino’s Farm in Clinton were $5 a quart at the Carrick farmers market, she said something she wouldn’t say to a supermarket cashier.

“It should be $3; two for $5,” she said.

“It’s not 1970 anymore, it’s 2014,” D.J. Jodikino replied.

“Five dollars? For that I can get it in the Shop ’n Save,” she said.

Then, as Mr. Jodikino turned away, she switched the top strawberry in one box for one in another and paid for them with a $5 coupon from the federal Senior Farmers’ Market Nutritional Program, which provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for food at farmers’ markets, roadside stands and community-supported agriculture programs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s survey of farmers markets this year found Pennsylvania ranked seventh in the nation with 297 markets, 130 of them in Western Pennsylvania. Nationally the tally counted 8,276, a 76 percent increase in the number of farmers markets since 2008.

Pittsburgh’s first farmers market was started by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the city parks department in 1975 in West Park on the North Side. Mr. Jodikino’s father was one of the first farmers to pull up a truck and sell his goods in Pittsburgh.

CitiParks has eight farmers markets now. Other local groups sponsor their own.

Even Mrs. Almone admits that the food at a farmers market is fresher than what she could buy at a supermarket. She said she knows food because she was born on a farm in Ukraine, trained as a chef in Russia at 19 and worked in Downtown at a restaurant for 29 years. Now, in her 10th decade, she still cooks at home and for her neighbor.

Mr. Jodikino brought two trucks of produce to the Carrick market. Through the afternoon, with plastic bags hooked to a loop attached to his belt, he emptied quart boxes of berries and put produce in bags while talking to the customers. People were already waiting at 3:30 p.m. when he was allowed to start selling.

Customers ask when the produce was picked, how it was grown and how much it costs.

In recent years, more people ask if the produce is organic. Mr. Jodikino said that while the farm tries to follow organic principals in farming, none of his vegetables is certified organic, which is a very regimented certification.

Carrick’s farmers market, held every Wednesday, now has a system to use credit and debit cards and food stamps.

Last year, Just Harvest launched Fresh Access in the North Side and East Liberty farmers markets. The program enables shoppers in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to swipe their SNAP cards and receive tokens that are accepted by many of the vendors. By the end of the summer, SNAP shoppers had spent $20,143 at the two farmers markets.

This year, the program expanded to all CitiParks farmers markets. With 16 weeks to go in the farmers market season, SNAP shoppers have already spent $35,280.

Mirella Ranallo, who runs the markets for the Pittsburgh Department of Parks and Recreation, said that first farmers market in 1975 was a bit of a free-for-all. Vendors would show up when they wanted to, and no one really knew who would be there from day to day.

The second year the city charged vendors $3 to participate.

Now the city charges $225 a year for a space, which is about the size of a parking space. Vendors can buy extra spaces for $150 each. There are also bylaws and safety rules, such as requiring vendors to be set up by the time the market opens so they aren’t moving trucks in the sales area while shoppers are walking around.

Vendors also are assigned spots so that shoppers can find them from week to week.

Ms. Ranallo said when people from neighborhoods call requesting a market in their area, she often encourages them to start their own because the majority of the farmers markets in the city are run by community groups and churches, such as the Thursday lunchtime market in Market Square, which is run by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Jim Griffin, director of the Pittsburgh Parks and Recreation Department, said every market has a different mix of vendors and a different feel.

Some markets have crafts. The Carrick market has kettle corn, coffee, fudge and pies in addition to the fresh vegetables and bread.

But Mr. Griffin said his department is cautious not to swing the markets too far afield from the mission of providing fresh produce to the public.

“It’s OK to have a pie once in a while,” he said, “but we want fresh apples and vegetables and fruits available at every market.”

The Post-Gazette has a complete list of farmers markets at www.post-gazette.com/​farmersmarkets.


Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.

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