The Meat and Potatoes on Where to Shop Other Than the Supermarket
When it comes time for residents of the Riverwards to hop in the car to food shop, they typically prepare for the routine schlep to their nearest supermarket while shuddering away the sounds of the Seinfeldian, single squeaky wheel of the shopping cart as it creaks out its tortured solo over the nondescript elevator music drone. The sight of slightly greenish-tinted fluorescent light somehow perfectly brings out the shirt color of the guy sneaking about 23 items through the 10-items-or-less lane.
Fortunately, as summer (FINALLY) sets in and new small business and agriculture pours into the neighborhood like a prank salt shaker top, there are plenty of ways to avoid the supermarket and come away with more than the bare essentials—and for many, at a walk of no more than a few blocks.
Do you know what still exists in Fishtown these days? The neighborhood butcher. Yes, I checked: It’s still a “thing.”
One butcher who’s quite literally stood the test of time is 78-year-old Dan Tocci, owner and sole proprietor of Dan’s Food Market on 2000 Frankford Ave. Please go in there, and just to try and tell me the man looks even a day over, like, 63.
Tocci started working at that location for his father in 1949, at age 12, taking over the family business in 1975. In his time at the Market, Tocci learned to tend to his customers’ needs the old-fashioned way, “offering a personal contact and interest in people, and giving them what they want by developing a relationship with each of them.”
Walk a few blocks from the “always-been” to the “just-arrived,” and you’re at Kensington Quarters: A restaurant, bar and—you guessed it—butcher shop on 1310 Frankford Ave. The modern establishment with steakhouse ambience boasts meats whose journeys are managed by them, from the range to the hands of the customers.
“We’re extremely new,” said co-owner Bryan Meyer, “but this is a very old idea of people going to markets that specialize … and we specialize in meat, dairy and eggs under a strict set of protocol which enriches the environment.”
One of the toughest things to find—not just in the city, but even into the ever-thickening web of suburbia—is a reliable place to find quality, organic produce that can be bought routinely by someone who can’t also afford a personal chef.
Enter the CSA. While it sounds like a surveillance spawn of “Dubya’s” Patriot Act, it’s more akin to Thomas Jefferson’s hopes for an agrarian society. CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is available at Greensgrow Farms, on 2501 E. Cumberland St.
Greensgrow Farms allows customers to buy in at the beginning of the season for a share of the weekly crop yield for that season. Greensgrow services many of the local restaurants—such as Johnny Brenda’s, Standard Tap and Pizzeria Beddia—along with health-conscious families throughout the Riverwards.
“We want to give people access to the best local food from last spring through early fall,” said Jimmy Matesevak, 31, in charge of Greensgrow’s food traffic. “Everything you’re getting is less than 36 hours out of the ground.”
For those commitment-phobes who can’t spread roots at a CSA, there’s always the simple, neighborhood community garden or farm stand—If you’re reading this, there’s likely one of these a short walk from you. These establishments work to build a sense of community by bringing in volunteers to help the planting and harvesting.
“Anyone can come and we accept food stamps too,” said Shazana Goff, volunteer gardener and social media manager. “Neighbors don’t just get their vegetables here. They come and chat with us and just spend time, even if they aren’t buying anything that day.”
Goff would go on to say they make sure their produce sells for well under estimated market value. Volunteers at the garden get heavy discounts toward the farm stand that also makes weekly food donations to the nearby soup kitchen.
Amanda Johnson, 31, runs the Frankford Avenue Community Garden to improve that part of the community. She and other volunteers develop their own gardening skills—and reap some harvest on the way—while using available crop yields to feed the homeless at the St. Francis Inn shelter (2441 Kensington Ave.).
“Having access to this produce where you know the people who grow it is a very enriching part of people’s lives these days,” Johnson said. “We believe keeping green space helps stabilize neighborhoods, and helps the community have a healthy space to gather.”
So, after all this talk about other places to shop then the supermarket in the neighborhoods, the future is likely, well, a supermarket!
The Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC) is made up originally of neighbors who set out to bring better quality food to the area. Currently, they run a Marketplace event every fourth Tuesday of the month to sell food from organic coffee to dried goods, jarred fruit to bread, even pre-orders on meats.
But with over 600 members and investors—and $900,000 saved of their $1.5 million goal—KCFC is also well on their way to opening up a grocery store at 2666-2672 Coral Street. As they hope to open their doors in 2016, they will serve as more than a typical supermarket.
“Co-ops serve as a community gathering place,” said Colleen Watts, 35, KCFC President. “We will be a full-service store, open to members and non-members, alike…We will be at the intersection of multiple neighborhoods, and it’ll be a really nice opportunity to tie the neighborhoods together and be a gathering place for folks.” Watts also said the store plans to feature beers on tap, as well as take-out, to enjoy a nice drink in the sitting area available.
As the future of the Riverwards’ economic boom goes, so goes the food shopping outlook. But if it’s anything like the present, buying your groceries in our neighborhoods can be a pleasure instead of a chore.