July 16, 2014–If you like farmers markets because you can buy interesting fruits and vegetables that have traveled just a few hours from farm to city, you’ll love the Wyck Farmers Market. The produce displayed on a table on the sidewalk in the decidedly urban neighborhood of Germantown every Friday afternoon from June to November traveled less than a minute from the farm where it was picked, usually just a few hours before it is offered for sale.
The market has another distinction. Wyck Farm, first established on the site more than 300 years ago, is a National Historic Landmark. The oldest section of the farm house that still stands on the property, sharing a funky stretch of Germantown Avenue with Charley Grey’s Rib Crib, Mecca Pizza and the Brand New Life Christian Center, was built in 1736.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Wyck Farm, which was owned for nine generations by a prominent Quaker family, occupied 50 acres in what was then a rural hamlet several hours by horse and buggy from Philadelphia. What’s left is a 2.5-acre bucolic oasis in the middle of the city, which now surrounds the farm. It is run by an association that offers summer camps and other educational offerings for kids, programs about local history and the weekly farmers market, featuring gourmet produce sold at prices that are fitting for a low-income neighborhood.
On my visits in recent weeks, I purchased carrots, beets, radishes, kale and other staples, as well as specialty items such as garlic scapes, black raspberries and gooseberries. Visitors on market afternoons are welcome to take a self-guided tour of the property. If you have questions about the day’s offerings, the farm manager, Katie Brownell, is happy to chat. If you, like me, are a gardener yourself, you can pick up some pointers from her about which vegetable varieties are doing best, how she is coping with pests and what she expects to have for sale in the weeks ahead.
Katie was introduced to farming in this region when she worked at farmers markets affiliated with the Food Trust, an organization that helps oversee more than two dozen farmers markets in the city including the Wyck Farmers Market. In that job, she got to know some of the growers, which led to jobs on nearby farms in the region that sell at Philadelphia farmers markets. She later completed a graduate program in organic farming in Michigan.
This is her second year managing the Wyck Home Farm. It is an ongoing learning experience, she says. Some of what she learned in Michigan hasn’t worked here. For example, as she noted in the weekly report that she emails to customers, some lettuce varieties that lasted through the summer in the somewhat cooler climate of Michigan bolted before the end of May in Philadelphia. On the other hand, a tomato variety that was one of her favorites in Michigan, the dramatically striped Copia, thrived in Germantown last year and she expects it to be a star performer again this year.
Katie is also looking forward to a mid-summer harvest of a crop that you don’t ordinarily see around here at the hottest time of year: broccoli. The Piracicaba variety, from Brazil, “actually enjoys hot weather,” she wrote in one of her weekly reports. And if you’re looking for something new to eat, keep an eye out for Malabar climbing spinach, a nutritious green that loves 90-degree heat. On my recent tours of the farm, I’ve noticed that it has been about a foot higher on the trellis each week.