From Farm to Fork

There is no better place to source local ingredients than Greater Reading

By Amanda Burkard-Sell, Agriculture Program Manager, Berks County Dept. of Agriculture

Greater Reading is fortunate to be home to over 1,800 diverse farms on some of the nation’s best farmland, many of which sell their products locally. From summertime sweet corn and tomatoes, to fall pick your-own apples and pumpkins, to cut-your-own Christmas trees, to locally made cheeses and ice cream, the farms in the Greater Reading area offer a variety of the freshest options for both residents and visitors. There is absolutely no comparison between a local, in-season tomato or peach with those that have been shipped across the country. Connecting with local farmers and producers also empowers buyers to discover and make choices about exactly where their food is coming from and even discover new seasonal foods and recipes.

Greater Reading provides a variety of ways to shop for local foods and agricultural products. Farm stands and weekly fruit and vegetable subscriptions offer in-season produce without the need for a large garden. Farms may have set hours, a porch-pick up option or the honor system. Pick-your own options allow visitors access to the freshest produce— right off the tree or bush. Some farm businesses offer larger stores with their own products plus other local producers’ goods, allowing for one-stop shopping and an easy way to get all the ingredients for a delicious meal. The area also is home to several community farmer’s markets, where buyers can connect with a variety of local vendors and ask questions about how their food is grown and produced. Some of these are outdoor seasonal markets and others operate year-round. There’s an option to buy local food that works for everyone.

One way for consumers to discover all the local produce and other goods Greater Reading farms have to offer is the Berks County Local Food Map. Launched in 2023, the map is the result of a partnership between the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA) and the Berks County Department of Agriculture and serves as an interactive online resource to locate local products. The map and its directory allow users to find the farms and producers in their area, with the ability to filter sites by categories like business type, products offered and accepted forms for payment. That way someone searching for pasture-raised chicken and eggs, pick-your-own strawberries, or locally produced honey can find exactly where to buy what they are looking for and when it is available. The map also lists the businesses’ hours and contact information and links directly with social media accounts and websites so that consumers can connect with the places they want to visit. It directly links to Google Maps, making it easy to take a road trip around the county for your
local food.

Additionally, the Greater Reading area is home to the Rodale Institute, a global leader in organic farming research and education. Rodale, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, has long been a pioneer in organic farming research, hosting the longest running field crop trial in the United States and recently adding a new trial testing for the nutrient density of organic versus conventional produce. But Rodale isn’t just a hub for scientific advancements, it also offers free resources and training to farmers, helping to support the local agricultural economy by helping to create the next batch of small farmers. It provides consulting and free technical assistance to support existing local farmers. Rodale has its own farm store in Kutztown, where it sells its products and those from other local farmers. It seeks to supplement, rather than compete with other local farms, specifically growing and supplying products to fill in the gaps, rather than provide what is already there.

Buying local not only provides access to the freshest food, but also supports the entire local economy, as the funds spent locally are reinvested back into community businesses and services. The environment benefits from reduced packaging and transportation needs and supporting local farms helps to maintain the farmland and green space that is part of the scenic quality of the Greater Reading area. Buying directly from local farmers is a win for the entire community and there is no better place to take advantage of this than Greater Reading.

Visit the Berks County Local Food Map.