Every Wednesday, three vendors arrive in the early hours of the morning to the middle of University City and prepare for a day of interacting with college students. The Farm to City University Square Farmers' Market, located in front of the Penn Bookstore on 36th and Walnut, offers fresh produce, baked goods, and unique plants. The three stands—Beechwood Orchards, Big Sky Bread Company, and PetAl Plants and Flowers—have traveled to Penn’s campus for years.
Shawn Garretson, the vice president of Beechwood Orchards, can often be seen keeping busy behind the produce stand—replenishing crates with fresh apples, helping customers make selections, and working the checkout register.
The farm, which is now in its fifth generation, has been “family owned for over 120 years,” says Garretson. Beechwood Orchards is located ten miles north of Gettysburg, and workers grow “a little bit of everything.” Its lineup of products includes over 80 varieties of apples, which are grown over 60 acres of land. Beechwood also sells apple cider, which is pressed by their neighbors every Monday.
Garretson was the first vendor to partner with Farm to City, a company that hosts produce–only farmers’ markets in the Philadelphia area, to launch the University Square Farmers' Market back in 2006.
Both Beechwood Orchards and Big Sky Bread Company work with the university to accept Dining Dollars and PennCash at their stalls. Garretson is glad for the support from the school, as it makes fresh produce a more accessible option for a lot of students who otherwise wouldn't be buying it. “It doesn’t take cash out of their pocket” to shop at the farm stand, he notes.
Andy O’Neill of Big Sky Bread Company loves coming to the University Square market every week. He says the young clientele makes the event “a little more fun to work.” College students even have a distinct taste in baked goods—Big Sky makes sure to stock up on them before its visits to campus. “They definitely like the cookies and pastries; we sell a lot more of those compared to other markets," he adds.
Big Sky Bread Company, founded in 1994 by Andy’s father, Patrick O’Neill, specializes in baking whole wheat breads, using organic flour and sometimes “a little bit of honey.” Hailing from Wilmington, the bakery used to have a bustling store front, but since 2019, it's focused exclusively on wholesale and farmers’ markets. Andy will take over the bakery one day, continuing the new, nomadic family tradition.
Meanwhile, PetAl Plants and Flowers sells everything from blossoms to hanging plants to petite cactuses and succulents. Although the store doesn't accept Dining Dollars or PennCash, it's still managed to cultivate meaningful connections with the Penn community in the six years since it's joined the farmers' market.
Pat McDonald, the vendor who works the PetAl stand, has become quite friendly with some of his regular customers. “Some of the kids we see from [their first year] to senior year,” he says. “We’ve seen them grow from young to big adults, to their next stage.”
The farm, which has roughly 30 acres of land, is located in Barrington, New Jersey. Everything not sold at a farmers' market is planted back into circulation, in order to keep the products fresh. “It’s a labor of love,” says McDonald.
The Farm to City University Square Farmers' Market has helped connect Penn students to local businesses that they might not ordinarily make the trek to. Next time you find yourself in desperate need of a break, check out the plethora of fresh goods that the market has to offer—right in our own backyard.