Long-awaited farmers markets simmer with flavor of the season

Lots of Western Pennsylvanians can’t wait for their farmers market, or markets, to open.

Sometimes they don’t.

On opening day of the Upper St. Clair Farmers Market this past Thursday, May 29, markets aficionado Toni Petrucci of Mt. Lebanon was in the Westminster Presbyterian Church lot a half hour before the booths opened, checking out the merchandise with her friend Mary Pursglove.

LIST of Pittsburgh-area farmer’s markets

“3:43: We’re almost there,” said Ms. Petrucci, adding, “They should allow us to buy a drink. I’m getting thirsty.”

Ms. Petrucci’s granddaughter was even more impatient, telling her grandmother on her cell phone that she wanted her to bring home red, yellow and green peppers.

Local peppers were weeks away, but the early birds didn’t have to wait that long: Right at 4 p.m., one of the blue-polo-shirted volunteers from the local Lions Club that runs the market — Rick Cobb — clanged the cowbell signaling that the selling and buying could begin, and the market was off and running for another season. As if on cue, the sun broke through the clouds.

Lion Burt Bowman, who organizes the market to raise funds that the club gives to charity, had been working throughout the winter to sign up and retain vendors. He lost some —there’s a lot of competition for vendors as new markets continue to open, and some of his were too strapped to make it to this market — and he gained a couple, too.

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The Burns family came all the way from their Heritage Farm in Ridgway, a 2½-hour drive, to their first market, with 2-year-old Micah as well as 10-day-old Patrick in tow. They’ll be selling pastured, GMO-free chickens and eggs. Non-profit Common Ground was selling greens grown just across the road at Gilfillan Farm, where this season it aims to grow two tons of food for food banks.

Especially after such a long cold winter, it was lovely to hear the vendors greet old friends and new ones (Emerald Farm cheese people, meet Loafers bread person; you should get along swell), and greet regular customers, too. (Cinco de Mayo Salsa vendor sitting behind more than a dozen salsas for sampling: “Are you looking for something particular?” Customer: “What I had last year. I don’t know what it is, but I came for it every week.” Vendor: “Taste away. Taste away!”)

It was lovely to smell the onions and the hamburgers cooking, and the beautiful strawberries and flowers and the fresh-baked bread, and hear the sounds of the wheel of ice spinning on the Swan Shaved Ice machine and the sales patter of some of the vendors.

“Hey buddy, long time no see,” said Henry Marckisotto to a boy who came up to the Wu’s Shave Ice stand where he’s worked for six years. He feels like a bartender, he says, and loves it. “I love the people. Everyone’s awesome.”

Mr. Bowman and his crew stayed busy to make sure it all went smoothly, and it did. He always tells wife this was his last season of running the market, yet here he is, and he always wonders if it’s going to be worth it, these 18 Thursday market evenings running from spring into fall, and yet here he is.

To lots of Western Pennsylvanians, from the farmers and the vendors to the customers and their kids, it is worth it. So worth it.

On this gorgeous evening, Mr. Bowman had to agree. Uncharacteristically, he had to leave a little early, but he didn’t do so without a box from Sand Hill Berries.

“Blueberry pie,” said the man in blue. “It’s my favorite.”

Like a lot of local produce, and some area markets, our annual list of the region’s farmers markets is a little late this year. But it’s bigger and more complete than ever and includes an interactive map. All season long, you can consult the list and map at post-gazette.com/​farmersmarkets.

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.


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