By Richard L. Gaw
For the last ten years, in the alleyway on State Street in Kennett Square, Friday afternoons from Spring to Fall have been known for the popular Farmer's Market, drawing customers from as near as the Genesis Building and as far away as Philadelphia. Now in its ninth year, the New Garden Growers' Market on Saturdays draws customers from up and down the Route 41 corridor, who graze among the abundance of fresh produce and home made goods. On Tuesdays, the Oxford Village Market opens its doors to hundreds of customers eager to take home everything from fresh produce to local wine to vegan- and gluten-free cookies.
If these markets had eyes, they'd be looking behind them right now, because there's a fourth market in our community, and its gaining on them.
Running every Thursday afternoon until October, the West Grove Farmers' Market has not only earned its reputation as the little market that could, it has outplayed it, and because of its growing popularity and diversity of fresh products, it has earned its rightful place as the third spot in the trinity of local farmer's markets in Southern Chester County.
On a recent breezy Thursday afternoon, the market, located in downtown West Grove, served as the back office of the Taste of Puebla gourmet Mexican restaurant; the Borderland Vineyard of Landenberg; the Clover Hill Farm of Lincoln University; the Walnut Brook Bakery of Lincoln University; Petey Possum's Hangout, formerly of Oxford; Fitchett Chiropractic of Kennett Square, and several other vendors. By the time the market opened at 2 p.m., a few customers casually walked up and down the aisle; by 3, the crowds got larger, and by the close of the workday, customers were itching for available car space.
"It's one of the smaller markets in the area, but we really enjoy being here," said Henry S. Stoltzfus of Clover Hill Farm, who serves as the market's coordinator. "This is a close-to-home kind of place, and because it's small, it allows the vendors to interact with the local people more."
"The market used to be in Harmony Park, but the decision was made to have it downtown, so as to incorporate it as part of a more walkable community," said West Grove Town Manager Sharon Nesbitt. "We want to make it inviting for people to come down here. Part of revitilization. With parking lots and sidewalks. All of the small boroughs are all creating the same possibilities, to make people want to come into town and not have to go to the big suburban markets."
Rae Dunn, a West Grove native and former Avon Grove School District employee, perused through the colrful bounty of Clover Hill's display. "The Amish grow things organically, so they're using products from the barn and their chicken house, and natural fertizilizer," she said. "In a small community, you take care of the people at home."
West Grove resident Laura Collins arrived recently from upstate New York with her husband. "When we lived in New York, we would drive an hour to a farmer's market," she said. "Here, it's right down the street. The prices here are very comparable to the local grocery store, and unlike a grocer store, the food we're buying hasn't been processed and sent all across the country."
Among the fresh fruit, vegetables and other goodies, Nancy Wykel, a practice representative of Fitchett Chiropractic in nearby Kennett Square, spoke to visitors about the company's many services.
"Folks who appreciate fresh fruits and vegetables tend to appreciate drug-free wellness, in any way they can capture that, and chiropractic care fits in that," she said. "In the past, people have thought of chiropractics as a means of fixing things, and although it does provide pain relief, its main purpose is to promote wellness. We're trying to raise awareness of health and wellness instead of medical intervention. It's directly in keeping with eating fresh fruits and vegetables."
Although Stoltzfus's goal is to continue to maintain the market's intimacy, he said that we would enjoy having a few more vendors on the weekly scene, as well as customers. Currently, the e-mail list of clientele numbers a little more than 300, and he said he has received commitments that the Big Sky Bread Company in Wilmington and the Juniper Hills Farm in Landenberg will be a part of the 2013 season.
"My goal is to become more diversified," Stoltzfus said, "so that people can make this their one-stop shopping place."
The West Grove Farmers' Market is open Thursdays, from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., from May through October, across from the West Grove Post Office. For more information and a list of vendors, visit www.westgrovefarmersmarket.com.