By Madeline Bartos | Staff Writer
Sometimes stealing an apple on your way out of the dining hall and counting it as your daily serving of fruit doesn’t quite cut it. Luckily, fresh-picked apples are less than a 15-minute walk away. Mellon Square Park, located between Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue, is one of the eight locations taking part in the Citipark Farmers’ Market — a program which brings fresh produce and baked goods you can’t get without driving outside the city.
When I arrived at Mellon Square Park, I was prepared to be greeted by the smell of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, after the initial city aroma faded, it was replaced by the smell of kettle corn. I had to wonder if I was even in the right place. When I started to walk around, I was pleasantly surprised to find a variety of tents, all boasting the same claim: homemade and local. A rectangular pool with several fountains took up most of the park. Scattered around it were tents with all sorts of goods, such as noodles, coffee beans, lemonade, hummus and even dog treats.
I sat down on the ledge of the fountain next to a Mediterranean bakery. The market runs 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and nearing the end, there were more pigeons than people for me to observe. The bakery smelled amazing, like funnel cake and fresh cookies, and I had to get back up to walk around before I bought everything.
In a search for fresh produce, I headed to the busiest vendor. The tent belonged to Dillner Family Farm, a farm located in Butler County about 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh. They use sustainable agriculture to grow their crops and have been coming to sell their produce in city farmers’ markets for over 10 years. Under the tent, there were tables lined with bins full of fruits and vegetables. There was so much produce, from apples to tomatoes and everything in-between.
Three employees stood behind a long table, taking cash from customers and answering any questions about the farm. One of the employees, a man in his late twenties, started a conversation with me. When I said that I was surprised by the small number of vegetable stands at Mellon Square Park, he told me that’s what allows Dillner Family Farm to do so well at the particular location.
“We can’t compete with the other guys,” he said, referring to the bigger farms that sell at other Citipark Farmer’s Markets. The business strategy seems to work well for them, considering that their tent easily had the most shoppers.
He offered to let me try a Concord grape, a seeded grape commonly grown in Pennsylvania, used mostly for juice and jam. While it’s just a bit sweeter than a seedless grape, the texture is much different. It’s chunky rather than smooth, and there’s a large seed in the middle as if you are eating around a cherry pit. I wasn’t a fan. While I tried not to make a face or spit out the grape, he explained to me that if Concord grapes could be grown seedless, they would be the most popular grape, although I’m not too sure I would get on that bandwagon anytime soon.
He also handed me a bag of apples that probably wouldn’t sell by the end of the day because people think bruises mean bad apples. Even with a little bruise on the top, they were worlds better than the tiny dining hall apples. He mentioned that starting Sept. 16, they’ll be back every Friday with more apples, as well as corn and fall vegetables, such as butternut squash, acorn squash and spaghetti squash. That will continue until the market closes Nov. 8.
When you’re a college student, it’s hard to feel satisfied with the dining hall’s attempts at providing “fresh” produce. Even if it is fairly fresh, it’s not quite the same after sitting in a food warmer for an hour or two. Fortunately, fresh picked produce is just a short walk away, so you won’t have to coat your salad bar broccoli in ranch dressing to get your daily serving of vegetables anymore.