Monday, August 30, 2010

RTM Acquiring Farmers' Markets Operator

Farm to City, which operates more than a dozen farmers’ markets in Philadelphia and its suburbs, plans a return to its roots at the Reading Terminal Market.

Farm to City's history with the RTM goes back to 1992 after Bob Pierson and a couple of friends started one of the city’s first contemporary farmers’ markets at South and Passyunk, a market which still flourishes under the auspices of Farm to City. That same year Duane Perry, then executive director of the Reading Terminal Market Merchants’ Association, hired Pierson to develop neighborhood markets for its newly-formed Reading Terminal Market Farmers’ Market Trust, which later evolved into today’s The Food Trust. Pierson left The Food Trust in 2002 to begin Farm to City.

If the negotiations are concluded successfully Pierson and the rest of his small staff will become employees of the Reading Terminal Market. The planned reconfiguration of vendor and office space at the RTM includes accommodations for Farm to City staff.

Both Pierson and Paul Steinke, general manager of the RTM, see two primary benefits to the merger: co-branding and funding. It would also provide a stable base under the wings of a larger organization for the farmers' markets.

“It's a co-branding that's attractive to Farm to City, aligning us with a well-known Philadelphia icon, a landmark known for its food. And the Reading Terminal Market is a non-profit corporation which would allow us to extend some of our programming by seeking and receiving grants,” said Pierson. Because Farm To City is structured as a for-profit limited liability company it does not benefit from foundation largesse.

“The acquisition of Farm to City by RTM is good match,” said Mike Holahan, president of the Reading Terminal Market Association. “We share similar values as to the importance of nurturing the local food system. But as in all mergers the devil is in the details.”

Those details include making sure the farmers’ markets continue to limit their vendor list to farmers and food producers, not middlemen. That’s the main concern of Jimmy Iovine of Iovine Brothers’ Produce, who otherwise is supportive of the acquisition. He sees the merger as contributing to public perception of the Reading Terminal Market as a great place to shop, which can only lead to more volume for his greengrocer’s business. Another purveyor, butcher Charles Giunta, expressed concern that by expanding outward the market would lose focus on growing the business of existing merchants.

Steinke sees an acquisition of Farm to City as a way to protect and build the market's existing business because it would “attach the Reading Terminal Market brand to the grower movement.”

Even though the RTM is technically a public market, not a farmers’ market, “most people think of us as a farmers’ market already, as a showcase for local food,” Steinke said. The RTM is one of the few public markets without an associated farmers’ market, he said. Among the public markets with farmers’ markets are Cincinnati’s Findlay Market, Milwaukee Public Market, North Market in Columbus, Ohio, Capital Market in Charlestown, West Virgiia, and Pike Place in Seattle.

Steinke said Farm to City’s markets in Philadelphia’s urban and suburban neighborhoods will be branded as an arm of the Reading Terminal, much like the Pike Place Express farmers markets in Seattle.

James Haydu, Pike Place’s Director of Communictions, said the two Seattle satellite markets were organized last year to provide additional selling opportunities for about a dozen farmers who sell at the main market once a week.

“We created Pike Place Express to offer our farmers another venue to sell. While Pike Place is located in the city’s downtown people may not have time to walk down here during lunch. We wanted to give them an opportunity to buy closer to where they are,” Haydu said. “By affording farmers additional venues, it creates a domino effect that’s good for the agricultural economy in the state of Washington.”

Steinke said that until a few years ago “farmers’ markets pretty much weren’t on the radar, but we’ve seen growth in markets like Headhouse. Acquiring Farm to City creates a ready-made pipeline to the farming community for us.”  When the market carves out additional vendor space through its proposed reconfiguration of Avenue D along the east side of the RTM, Steinke plans to take advantage of that pipeline.

Farm to City’s neighborhood markets, winter market and community supported agriculture (CSA) program “complement the products we have at the Reading Terminal Market” Steinke said.

The merger had its genesis this past spring when, in an attempt to replace the departing Livengood Family Farm Saturday stall and secure its reputation as a mecca for locally-produced foods, the Reading Terminal Market asked Pierson to organize an outdoor farmers' market across the street.

The results of that collaboration – a Saturday farmers’ market opposite the RTM on 12th Street – fizzled but it led to the current merger path. Steinke credited the idea of an RTM acquisition of Farm to City to Ann Karlen, executive director of Fair Food, which operates a stall at the market selling products from dozens of regional farmers.

According to its web site, farmers markets operated this season by Farm To City are located at Rittenhouse Square, South & Passyunk, Fountain Square in South Philly, Mount Airy, 36th & Walnut, Love Park, Girard & 27th, Oakmont in Havertown, Suburban Station, Jefferson Hospital (10th & Chestnut), Bala Cynwyd, East Falls, Chestnut Hill, Manayunk, Swarthmore, and Bryn Mawr.

Most of the city's other farmers' markets, including Headhouse, Fairmount, and Clark Park, are operated by The Food Trust. In all, that organization manages nearly 30 markets in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

No comments:

Post a Comment