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Centuries of Homegrown Tradition

Student working at Farmers on the square

by Alexander Bossakov '20

Every Wednesday morning beginning in the late 1750s, on the corner of South Hanover and East High streets, a market came to life. Farmers from the valley arrived before sunrise to set up their stands. During the winter, lanterns swung above the stalls for warmth and light. Throughout the 19th century, the market had to be rebuilt several times, with the last major construction in 1878 giving rise to the impressive Carlisle Market House.

Close to two centuries after its inception, the Market House was demolished due to structural instability. But in 2009, after a 50-year hiatus, Farmers on the Square brought the valley’s farmers together in downtown Carlisle anew.

Farmers on the market

Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pa.

Staying true to its long tradition, the Farmers on the Square market brings about a warm and festive atmosphere every Wednesday. Vendors set up, display and talk about their produce with a meticulousness characteristic only of those who are personally and wholly involved in the production of their goods from the very beginning to the very end of the process. Locals and visitors are pleasantly surprised by the vibrancy of offerings, ranging from homemade salsa to alpaca fiber scarves, from fresh-cut flowers to gourmet popcorn.

“This is the only place where you can get an addiction to salsa,” shares Mama Rita, who produces homemade salsa in her kitchen. She revealed that her son persuaded her to take the family recipe out of the kitchen and into the public by getting a graphic designer to create a label for her as a Christmas present. The locals’ addiction to Mama Rita’s salsa is so strong that when the yearly batch runs out by November, people start asking, “Where’s the salsa lady?”

Michelle Elston from the Roots Cut Flower Farm stands behind an abundance of sunflowers, lilies and poppies. She shares that she always pictured herself as a flower farmer. “It’s this vision of a life of simplicity, hard work and natural beauty that propels me,” she says. “I hope that I can inspire people to see some of the beauty in our world.”

At the end of the market stands the remarkable Rafiki Shoppe, a tribute to food from all over Africa, run by Uganda native Roger Godfrey. To prepare the food he serves, Godfrey brings in spices from around Africa and incorporates them into ingredients he finds here. Alongside the family food business, Godfrey’s wife, Dorothy Dulo, founded Rafiki Africa, a foundation that uses some of the profits generated by Rafiki Shoppe to help fund sustainable solutions for community development in her native village in Kenya. The philanthropic spirit of the couple does not stop there: To prepare the food sold at the market, Godfrey and Dulo employ refugee women from the Lancaster community.

Farmers on the Square is often enlivened by live vocals, yoga for kids and healthy cooking sessions. Carlisle natives, Dickinson students and professors browse the stands, enjoying a fresh slice of pizza from the College Farm or tasting homemade ice cream from the Gettysburg Creamery. So next time you’re thinking of coming back to Carlisle, consider visiting on a Wednesday. 

“It’s this vision of a life of simplicity, hard work and natural beauty that propels me. I hope that I can inspire people to see some of the beauty in our world.”
–Michelle Elston, Roots Cut Flower Farm

From April through October, Farmers on the Square is held every Wednesday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the corner of High and Hanover streets. Beginning in November, the market moves indoors to Project SHARE at 5 North Orange Street and runs every Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. until the week before Christmas. From January until April, the market is held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at Project SHARE.

Read more from the spring 2018 issue of Dickinson Magazine.

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Published April 18, 2018