Strolling through Downtown State College on a Tuesday or Friday afternoon, Penn State students and locals congregate on Locust Lane to browse the Downtown State College Farmers Market.
From bushels of apples to hand-picked wildflowers, the Farmer’s Market runs from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. May through November and has something for everyone.
It began in the summer of 1976 and continues to support local farms and businesses to this day. To be part of the market, vendors must produce their wares in Center County.
Paula Martin, a friend of Eda Case, owner of Patchwork Farm and Greenhouse, said she and Case attend the farmers’ market together every Friday.
“We’ve been here from the start,” Martin said. “Eda and I have grown up with the farm since we were 11 years old, and Eda has taken over the third generation business from his parents.”
The farm produces a wide range of products and flowers for its customers. Martin explained that Patchwork has been certified organic for “over 30 years.”
“Some vendors use organic practices, but we’re proud to be certified organic,” Martin said. “Organic foods can be much more expensive, but we try to make our foods and products affordable.”
Any leftover produce from the Farmer’s Market is “donated to the local food bank or composted,” according to Martin.
Additionally, Martin said Patchwork provides flowers and plants to State College.
“The borough receives everything [its] flowers from us, so we’re beautifying all the medians in the area,” Martin said.
While some vendors have been around for a while, Leslie Zuck, owner of Common Ground Farm, said this is the company’s first season as part of the State College Farmers Market.
“We haven’t been able to attend so far because we had other commitments, but we hope to be able to connect with the community here now,” Zuck said.
Founded in 1986, according to its website, Common Ground specializes in plants native to Pennsylvania that are attracted to pollinators. Zuck said that includes heirloom produce — such as heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, pumpkins and squash.
“We like to bring these types of products to people and tell them why they’re good for you,” Zuck said.
Since the 1990s, Zuck said Common Ground has participated in the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program, an organization that matches volunteers who want to work on a farm with participating farms.
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Zuck had volunteers Rosamund Moore and Ellie Balotovsky with her at the market on Friday.
“I’m from Milwaukee, so I didn’t get much exposure to farm life, but it was really great,” Moore said. “It’s a really different way of life.”
Balotovsky is from the State College area and said it was a “really good experience” for her.
“It was an opportunity to learn more about the local culture and how organic produce is grown,” Balotovsky said. “I think this is a really good opportunity if you want to learn more about agriculture and sustainable lifestyles.”
The Downtown State College Farmers Market also offers non-fresh produce.
Janet Robinson, owner of The Piper’s Peck in Bellefonte, specializes in salsa, hot pepper jelly, preserves and fudge.
“My all-time bestseller is raspberry chipotle jam,” Robinson said. “A lot of people also like black bean salsa and golden salsa.”
Robinson also explained how the coronavirus pandemic has affected The Piper’s Peck.
“During the two years of closures and restrictions, we were allowed to stay open because we were deemed an essential business,” Robinson said. “Things are developing on the ground, whether there is a pandemic or not, so we were able to continue.”
According to Robinson, there were still transient consumers who were “happy [it was] always open.”
Another stop at the State College Farmers Market is the Idou Coffee Co. trailer, which provides consumers and vendors with morning or afternoon specialty coffees.
Co-founder Mike Swanson said the coffee company previously sold bags of ground coffee on the market, but started making specialty drinks with the installation of its coffee trailer in April 2022 on the farmers market.
“Our vision from the beginning has been to get into the mobile cafe business,” Swanson said. “We want it to be like any coffee you might find.”
Swanson said he and his employees “love it all around” as they interact with customers on a new level as they “explore the world of specialty coffee.”
“It’s really cool to build bridges with the students here,” Swanson said. “Some of them already have a love for specialty coffee, and others are just getting started.”
Anyone looking for a sweet treat at the market can stop by Nick Freed’s Inside Out Cookie stall. Freed offers a variety of “brownie-like” cookies.
“I try to offer a bit of everything to customers,” Freed said. “Some cookies are regular, vegan, gluten-free, keto, and protein.”
With people busy in the marketplace, Freed said he appreciates that “you can actually have a conversation with people who are interested in your product.”
“I attend two farmers’ markets, and this is by far my favorite because of everyone,” Freed said. “There is rarely a lull throughout the day with all the students passing by.”
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