By Abby Kennedy, Development & Communications Intern

The Food Trust launched its first farmers market in 1993 with a simple mission of making healthy foods accessible and affordable. Three decades later, as we celebrate National Farmers Market Week, our goal remains the same: delicious, nutritious food for all.

In the early 1990s, Duane Perry, a Philadelphia native, worked as a manager in Reading Terminal Market where he recognized the power of marketplaces in the city to bring nutritious foods to community members. However, he noticed that opportunities to buy fresh foods from nearby farmers were largely limited to the suburbs. He spoke with patrons during his time at Reading Terminal Market and learned that for most communities around the city, farmers markets were largely non-existent. Eager to fill this gap, Perry began The Food Trust — then called the Reading Terminal Farmers’ Market Trust — and opened its first market in Southwest Philadelphia’s Tasker Homes housing development. Soon after, The Food Trust opened seven more markets around the city, in neighborhoods like Mantua, Graduate Hospital and West Philly (where our Clark Park market began in 1998 and continues to operate today as one of the city’s largest farmers markets). The markets quickly became beloved neighborhood institutions: Community members described attending the market with their children, some to purchase food, but some to simply learn and socialize with the vendors and other patrons.

“People have really flocked to the market,” said Perry in an interview with Good Food in 1994. “It’s like a little mini-community center. It functions like the Reading Terminal Market. People sit, have coffee, talk. It brings a lot of warmth to the place.”

Recognizing the potential for community outreach and nutrition education at market locations across the city, The Food Trust expanded programming to include nutrition education at farmers markets and schools. We began working with schools in Philadelphia to host nutrition education lessons, provided handouts and resources for children to learn about healthy eating, and ran public campaigns to promote nutritious foods. In 2008, the Food Trust was also featured in a special features piece on childhood health in Time magazine for our work increasing access to fruits and vegetables, and advancing nutrition education. Since then, the reach of our comprehensive programming around access, education, and affordability has expanded across the state, and even across the country — as far away as San Jose, California.

Since that first farmers market in the early ’90s, we’ve also found new ways to enhance our markets’ role as hubs for fresh and local food. In 2010, we launched the Food Bucks program to help market shoppers using SNAP bring home free fruits and vegetables. Today, Food Bucks can still be earned and redeemed at all Food Trust markets, and the program has also expanded to retail sites across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In 2021, with the support of the USDA, we launched a citywide billboard campaign, featuring market vendors, shoppers and staff, that touted the benefits of shopping local at farmers markets.

We continue to launch new markets across the city of Philadelphia, carrying on Perry’s initial vision for farmers market access throughout the city. We currently work with about 85 farmers and producers, who provide their offerings to more than 300,000 market shoppers each year. This May, we launched a year-round market in Northern Liberties, the latest addition to our network. This year, we’re launching a new cohort of our Farmers Market Advisory Group, consisting of key farmers and community members, who will focus on uniting farmers markets across the city, beyond Food Trust markets.

As our programs and outreach continue to grow, this National Farmers Market Week we reflect on the single market that started it all. Farmers markets have been and will continue to be a crucial part in our mission to deliver delicious and nutritious food for all. As we think about what is next for The Food Trust, history proves that while much has changed, our mission has always been the same, serving as the crucial connection linking our past, present and future. Over 25 years later, our team continues to recognize the same community connection at Food Trust Farmers Markets that Perry saw at his first farmers market.

“Everyone comes out to the farmers market- older folks, younger folks, babies,” says Jonah Hudson, market manager at Headhouse Farmers Market. “It’s a place to build relationships.”



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