Working at the Farmers Market


I will never again take for granted the wonderful fresh produce I buy at the Headhouse farmers market on Sundays or the Christ Church market on Wednesdays.

Humbling. That sums up the experience of working a shift at the farmers market at Christ Church.

I will never again take for granted the wonderful fresh produce I buy at the Headhouse farmers market on Sundays or the Christ Church market on Wednesdays.

I stumbled into this adventure when my favorite farmer, Dave Allen from Beechwood Orchards, asked if I knew anyone who would work for him in Philadelphia. I offered to spread the word, and told everyone I knew who might be interested about the opportunity.

Then I thought, “Why not me?” I like people. I like produce. I like being outdoors. And I can write about it. I signed up, and off I went.

The market runs from 2 to 7 p.m., but the staff of two — Elijah Patterson, who works on the farm in Biglerville and runs three markets a week, and myself — reported at 12:45 p.m.

We unloaded the truck, set up the tent and tables, and arranged about 40 crates of produce to look pretty and inviting. My kale bouquet, bunched vertically in a metal bucket, was fairly inspired. Aesthetics aside, it was demanding, taxing, physical work — I was tired after the first hour, and the market hadn’t even opened.

We served a steady stream of customers — a true cross section of Philadelphia and beyond.

Customers included folks using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) vouchers to buy fruits and vegetables, tourists buying apples for snacks and asking directions to historic sites, urban mommies with expensive strollers and cute babies, and people heading home from work in everything from power suits to surgical scrubs to custodial uniforms.

They also included dozens of dog walkers, hipsters asking about our organic credentials, seniors from the neighborhood who shared their recipes for applesauce and cabbage soup, and representatives from local restaurants picking up produce orders for the week.

Patterson had a wonderful, kind way with the customers — particularly the elderly ladies, who seemed to visit as much for the conversation as the wares. He asked about their health, remembered that one had grandchildren visiting for the High Holidays, empathized with their troubles, and helped them navigate the cobbled pavement and curbs with their bags.

The hours passed quickly. Even when business slowed to one or two customers, I was learning a lot.

Patterson was a treasure trove of information about produce.

Apple X is a new varietal developed at Penn State and has not yet been named. Crimson Crisp is another new varietal, bred to mimic a Honeycrisp’s taste, texture and popularity.

Delicata squash mixes the autumnal flavor of a butternut with the easy chopping and handling of zucchini. And you can eat the skin of delicatas when they are cooked, so they are user-friendly. Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, once the detested cousins of the cruciferous vegetable family, are now the darlings of chefs and cooks alike. We sold out of both before the day ended. Kale seems to have had its day and is not as popular as it was in recent years.

The sun set, darkness fell, a chill hit, the flow of customers slowed to a trickle then none, and finally it was 7 p.m. and time to close. That meant loading the truck, stacking the pallets, folding the tables and collapsing the tents. Patterson did the heavy lifting — and I ferried the lighter items and empty crates from our stand to the truck.

When we finished, I was paid in cash, well above minimum wage, and offered any produce I wanted to take home. I bagged up some Apple X and Crimson Crisps to try, and also some delicata squash. I thanked Patterson, who told me I’d done a “bang-up job” and home I went. He, on the other hand, had a two-and-a-half-hour drive back to the farm.

So I gained a true appreciation for the effort required to run a farmers market stall. And this doesn’t even touch upon the amount of work it takes to grow the merchandise.

Would I do it again?, Allen asked when I saw him that Sunday. I said I’d think about it.

Meanwhile, I thoroughly enjoyed the delicata squash — which I grilled during that record-breaking warm spell we enjoyed recently.

Grilled Beechwood Orchard Delicata Squash


3 delicata squash

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

Cut the stems off the squash, then slice them in half vertically. Remove the pits and stringy fibers. Cut each half into three or four pieces.

Place the cut squash into a shallow bowl and drizzle with oil, then sprinkle with seasonings. Allow the squash to marinate, if desired.

Place the squash on a medium-hot grill, cut side down, cover and cook for five minutes. Flip and repeat.

Turn the heat off to half of the grill, then push the squash to that side and allow it to “bake” for another 10 minutes.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: If you prefer to roast the squash, place it in a baking dish and bake it in an oven for 30 minutes at 425 F.

Serves 4 


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