Strolling through the stands of an open-air farmers market, flanked by the bright greens, juicy reds and sunny yellows of summer, it’s easy to see why it’s more than just an outdoor store.
It’s a place in the sun. A hub for friends to meet. A succulent scavenger hunt. An opportunity to chat about healthy food, new recipes and the neighborhood.
The new Allison Hill Farmers Market promises to be that and more, as our social-distancing selves venture out from forced isolation to snap up fresh fruits and vegetables—no cans, pre-packaged snacks, junk food, artificial ingredients or frozen bites to be found.
It is the handiwork of Tri-County Community Action (TCCA), located just a half-block away from the market and the Allison Hill Community Garden.
Isabel Blumenthal, market coordinator, said that the market will have “a plethora of produce to offer throughout the season.”
Local vendors have already pledged to provide asparagus, kale, lettuce, spinach, beets, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, strawberries, sweet corn, eggplant, cucumber, green beans, watermelon, strawberries, okra and sweet potatoes.
Fresh herbs, such as basil, cilantro, thyme, mint, sage, fennel, rosemary, oregano, savory, and lovage, will also be available, as will artisanal products like thyme butter, flavored vinegar, comfrey salves, fennel glycerin soaps, potted perennials, honey, tea and hemp products.
Produce boxes, similar to those offered at a CSA (community supported agriculture), will be available for pickup from Harrisburg Urban Growers, and eggs will be available from a local farmer as well, Blumenthal said.
Vendors are expected to be able to accept the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers.
“We are so excited because this is the market’s first year,” Blumenthal said.
The idea took root years ago, and has come into full bloom in 2020, despite the scourge of the coronavirus.
For years, community members asked for a local food marketplace, Blumenthal said. That ties in nicely with TCCA’s mission to tackle food insecurity and promote self-sufficiency throughout the Allison Hill community.
The produce is so “local” that fruits and vegetables will often come from the soil of community members’ own urban gardens.
And the deals will be hard to beat.
“Thanks to TCCA and our sponsors, the farmers market will be offering a SNAP Matching Program,” Blumenthal said. “Not only does the AHFM accept SNAP benefits. Individuals who redeem these benefits will have double to spend at the market.”
She explained that the program matches up to $10 in benefits. So, if you purchase $10 worth of eligible products on your EBT card, you receive another $10 to spend at the market.
Like all farmers markets across Pennsylvania, the Allison Hill market will make adjustments to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Because the Wolf administration has deemed farmers markets an “essential” business, it can operate even if stay-at-home orders remain in place.
Their pre-opening, pandemic-conscious preparations include offering a pre-order and drive-through pickup option for those who prefer reduced-contact shopping.
”Farmers markets are a fundamental piece of Pennsylvania’s supply chain, something many Pennsylvanians have become acutely aware of in recent weeks,” Secretary of Agriculture Russ Redding said in guidance from the department.
The department’s guidance includes these suggestions:
- Offer delivery or pickup options and online or phone ordering.
- Pre-package bags of fruit, vegetables and other items to limit shoppers’ handling of food and to keep customers moving quickly.
- Offer designated times for high-risk and elderly persons to shop at least once a week.
- Communicate with consumers via website or social media to explain changes, delivery options or other precautions to mitigate against COVID-19.
- Separate stands to limit crowds and consider limiting the number of customers in the market at one time.
- If possible, have a different person handle products and handle money, or wash hands and sanitize between tasks.
- Remove tablecloths and eliminate samples and eating areas.
The guidelines also offer farms the opportunity to open an on-farm stand to sell raw produce, eggs, or shelf-stable packaged foods such as jams, jellies or baked goods without additional food safety licenses.
This guidance augments state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine’s directives to wash hands frequently, wipe down surfaces often, and stay home if you feel sick.
Blumenthal hopes the Allison Hill market fills far more than kitchen pantries and refrigerators. She wants it to help fill the stomachs of residents who may often go hungry or undernourished, improve the health of residents, build entrepreneurship among local farmers and residents and enrich community life in Allison Hill.
Other summer offerings planned at AHFM include cooking demonstrations, free health screenings, no-cost samples, talented musicians, cooking classes, smart gardening practice and recipe swapping.
For anyone who loves a juicy tomato, a creative concoction for dinner, and fresh air and fresh fruits and vegetables, Wednesdays are your green-letter day.
The Allison Hill Farmers Market is located at 1421 Derry St., Harrisburg. It debuts on Wednesday, June 10, 3 to 7 p.m., and will continue every Wednesday through mid-October. For more information and updates, visit www.cactricounty.org/ahfm or follow Tri-County Community Action on Facebook.