Soon, shoppers at Reading Terminal Market will have one less place to buy local. After 15 years, the Fair Food Farmstand is closing.
The closure is imminent, according to John Rhoads, interim executive director of Fair Food Philly. Operations will cease by the end of April “at the latest,” he said, and all inventory will be sold off, starting immediately.
Why the change? The organization is undergoing a fundamental shift, Rhoads explained, pivoting away from retail and back to a wholesale focus.
Fair Food was started in 2000 as a business-to-business operation (albeit a very nontraditional one), when founder Ann Karlen followed through on a request from Judy Wicks of White Dog Cafe to help connect local farmers with other local chefs. Back then, farm-to-table wasn’t yet a trend — Fair Food was a pioneer.
After a couple of successful early years, Karlen realized she could also turn consumers onto the benefits of locally-sourced produce, meat and cheese. So she approached Reading Terminal, and in 2003 opened the Farmstand.
It was a huge hit. In 2009, the stand moved from its original 300-square-foot spot at the back of the market to a double-sized space up at the front, right near Bassett’s and Pearl’s Oyster Bar. Inventory expanded as well, and included milk, dairy, poultry, vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, meats, honey and other locally-grown foods.
Last year, Karlen stepped down as executive director of the organization she had founded, leaving it in the hands of Rhoads and other experienced staff.
Now, Fair Food faces a dilemma. Its local-sourcing mission has been so widely adopted — a win, overall — that it’s losing customers to others offering similar products. In Reading Terminal Market alone, there are at least half a dozen other places to pick up ingredients grown or made in the Philadelphia area.
Which means the Farmstand is no longer profitable — which in turn means it no longer makes sense to keep it open.
“Local food is much more broadly available now in the retail marketplace than when the farmstand began,” Rhoads wrote in an email sent Monday evening, “which has proved a double-edged sword. From Fair Food’s non-profit perspective, growing competition is proof our overall mission has been successful, but it does not guarantee continued profitable operation of the farmstand.”
Fair Food’s annual gala fundraiser, the Philly Farm and Food Fest, will take place Oct. 28 at the Navy Yard as planned.
Reading Terminal Market representatives were not available to answer questions about what business will take the Farmstand’s place when it closes.