Black farmers market comes to West Oak Lane

After driving across four states, brothers Cornelius and Larry Holmes pulled their pickup truck to the side of Limekiln Pike in West Oak Lane and got to work. They arranged the sweet potatoes and collard greens they had grown themselves on a pair of tables for local residents to browse.

It’s the first Black Farmers’ Market of the year in the neighborhood of Berachah Baptist Church and the first time the Holmes brothers have made the trek from their home state of Virginia to sell their goods in a predominantly black Philadelphia neighborhood.

“It’s important to offer to people in the inner city the same thing that rich people can afford and that’s fresh fruits and vegetables,” Cornelius Holmes said.

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The Black Farmers Market is about making a direct connection between African American kitchens and African American growers. It’s a way of addressing the persistent Philadelphia problem of poor access to fresh, healthy foods in low-income areas, while also doing something to support black farmers who have been marginalized by the country’s agricultural policy.

The 1999 case Pigford v. Glickman found that for years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated in its loan practices against black-owned farms. Last month the U.S. Senate voted to award $1.5 billion to black owned farms as a result of that case.

For the Holmes brothers that settlement won’t have much impact, but the outgrowth of the Obama Administration’s policies encouraging fresh foods in the city does, Cornelius Holmes said. He thinks there have been more opportunities for these kinds of farm markets as a result.

The Black Farmers Market project started in Philadelphia three years ago as an outgrowth of an episode of the WURD Sunday night radio talk show called “Time for an Awakening.”

According to Reggie Raghu, a project organizer for the Time for an Awakening Association, the show exposed the plight of black farmers so well that a regular caller with the handle “Hurryyaa” challenged the program on air to do something about it.

They got the message and started the first Black Farmers Market in Philadelphia on North Broad Street that year, Raghu said.

One of the challenges of the program has been finding black farmers close enough to the city to participate, according to Raghu.

“Most of the African American farmers, you don’t really have that many locally,” he said. He has only found one in Pennsylvania and very few in New Jersey and Delaware.

Still, long drive and all, Cornelius Holmes thinks the effort is important. For him freshness is everything.

He held up a collard green the size of a peacock fan and bent its stalk until there was a sharp snap. Droplets of cold water sprayed from the interior green.

“The whole idea is to get it cut or picked within one day or two days to getting it to market,” he said.

Raghu said his organization plans to hold a market in the West Oak Lane location for the next few Saturdays.


For information call Time for an Awakening at 215-370-3038 or email:

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