McCann sisters approach end of first season at Gorgas Park farm stand

Each Friday at Gorgas Park, the McCann Farm’s farmers market brings fresh produce to the Roxborough area. Anita McCann-Hepler, a third-generation farm owner, and her sister run the stand as a part of Philadelphia’s Farm to City program.

Farm to City is an independently owned business that was previously part of the city’s Greens Grow program. The program seeks out farms that use eco-friendly farm practices and assigns them to underserved areas in Philadelphia.

“They called us to get farmers with good quality produce to come up to the city. They check out our spray records and they come down to the farm and check to see if we grow what we say we grow and that our practices are good farming practices,” McCann-Hepler said.

Residents enjoy seeing the McCanns return each week. Anne Bower, an associate professor of biology at Philadelphia University, lives across the street from the park and frequents the stand.

“I love talking to the farmers, conversing with them about what they grew and when they grew it and I’m a home gardener so I am comparing notes all the time and learning stuff. This produce, you can’t get fresher produce than to buy it the day it was picked,” Bower said.

Before being assigned to the Roxborough area, The McCann Farm’s market was set up in the courtyard at City Hall. After two years, renovations forced the stand to be reassigned.

Since coming to the area in May, the McCanns have formed tight bonds within the community not only as a business but on a personal level as well.

“We have a few friends that will call us when we’re not here. We have people that email me ‘I’m not going to be able to get there until like 5:30 and I don’t want to miss out on the string beans today’ and we have boxes in the back here that we actually put aside,” McCann-Hepler said.

The McCann’s Farm is located in Elk Township, N.J., and was started by their grandparents in 1951. The family’s extensive farming history can actually be traced back over 200 years. The McCanns learned even more about their family history when they began working in the park.

“Coming up here, we realized that our mom actually grew up in the orphanage right down the street, right here on Ridge Avenue and went to high school right here at Roxborough High. We share that story with our customers and usually that are able to make some kind of connection with it. Someone actually knew my mom that went there,” McCann-Hepler said.

The farm stand sells more than just fruits and vegetables. Fare at the stand ranges from sweet potatoes and apples to freshly pressed apple cider and an array of honey. Breanna Rutledge, a Temple University graduate student who lives in the area, visited the stand for the first time and found the homemade jam she had been looking for.

“It’s nice because you can ask personal questions about if they use pesticides, herbicides and that sort of thing. Usually, the produce is cheaper and you’re supporting a local business,” Rutledge said.

The McCanns pride themselves on the freshness of their products they put out each day.

“When buying something from us, if it was picked more than three days ago, that is a lot for us. It’s usually picked that day,” McCann-Hepler said.

Bower said she looks forward to the farm market’s return to the area knowing the many benefits it brings to the surrounding area.

“In areas where there is no supermarket, this farmers market allows people to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables. America has an obesity epidemic. If you don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re going to end up like all the rest of Americans,” Bower said.

McCann-Hepler’s favorite aspect of running the farm stand is the knowledge that they are selling the best possible products to their customers.

“People are going right in the house and cooking it when they buy it here and the really cool thing about that is that [my sister] picked okra this morning and the lady that lives in the house right there is cooking it right now,” she said.

The market is open every Friday from 2 to 6 p.m.

Although the stand is officially set to close at the end of October, the McCanns are hoping to stay until around Thanksgiving or until the produce runs out. They are waiting on permits to see if they can return next year to Roxborough. 

Alyssa Andrews and Josh Verlin are Temple University students. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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