Now in its 100th year, Risser-Marvel Farm Market near Campbelltown is still a popular destination for produce lovers.

“We sell a lot of vegetable plants,” said Tina Forry, who has managed the market along with husband Greg since 2007. “We do well with the pick-you-owners. People are interested in getting back to basics and traditions because they want to know what is in their food and how it is prepped.”

Located along Route 322 near Campbelltown, Risser-Marvel Market is benefiting from a reaction to the pandemic that continues to have its own shelf life.

Celebrating its centenary, Risser-Marvel Farm Market near Campbelltown reports an increase in business since the pandemic, with customers seeking locally sourced produce and vegetable plants for home gardening. (Will Trostel)

“If you are talking plants, definitely,” said Forry about the uptick in business. “I think it started maybe in 2020, 2021. People couldn’t travel, didn’t want to travel, and so they based their house like their own little escape. Everyone had extra time on their hands because they couldn’t go anywhere and I believe some people enjoy that aspect of it. People really enjoy making their home a little oasis that they can just enjoy and get away from it all.”

On a recent Friday morning, the market was doing consistent brisk business. At least one and mostly two or three customers or groups of customers were shopping for fresh vegetables, vegetable plants and other delicious foods during the time LebTown was there.   

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in people buying vegetable plants since the pandemic and it definitely has stayed strong over the past couple of years,” said Tina. “Of course, our business is so weather-dependent.”

There are two vegetable plants that are especially popular with their shoppers.

“Peppers and tomatoes,” said Tina. “Tomatoes first, then peppers. That enjoyment of that fresh tomato you grow yourself that doesn’t compare to anything you get in the store. Then there is the whole fresh eating. And we have customers who have a thing for hot stuff. We sell all kinds of hot peppers.”

All of their products are sourced locally, adds Tina.

“The vegetable plants and the bedding plants we get from several local greenhouses,” said Tina. “We’re very happy with the quality they have.”

An offering shoppers enjoy is the “four pack” of vegetable plants.

“For tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, we do two sizes of pots, a smaller and larger one,” said Tina. “That way, if they want to try different varieties, they can choose the four plants they want instead of getting all four of one kind. If they want a cherry tomato or an heirloom or a paste tomato, they can pick and choose.”

The recent spell of warm weather has re-energized the green thumb in local gardeners.

“This has gotten everyone in the mood now for plants. Yes, we’ve definitely seen a bump,” said Tina. “The last general frost date I tell people is Mother’s Day, but the 10-day forecast looks like we’re out of that (window) now.” 

Risser-Marvel Farm Market along Route 322 near Campbelltown is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Founded as a dairy operation until the 1960s, it has been managed by Greg and Tina Forry since 2007. (James Mentzer)

Risser-Marvel opens in March annually and stays open until about Christmas since they sell Christmas trees onsite for the holiday season.

“We could open earlier if we want, but we won’t open any earlier than March,” said Tina. “We open when the weather changes and people are ready. But as I said, we’re really weather-dependent.”

Local produce is already available since it is being grown indoors.

“We have local lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, spring onions, radishes, rhubarb, zucchini, and we have local strawberries,” said Tina. “A lot of it has some help. They are grown in a greenhouse in the dirt, not with hydroponics.”

While the business has around 40 acres to grow its own variety of vegetables throughout the season, the market opens in March with locally sourced products due to popular demand.

“People are looking for local foods earlier and earlier,” said Tina, who added they are picking their own asparagus right now. “Winter is gone, spring is here and people want something that’s fresh. Our own strawberries should be in season around Memorial Day. We’ve already got people asking if they can come pick their own.”

Wishing to purchase year-round fresh local produce is not unique to Lebanon County.

“The produce auctions in Lancaster County are going to start going year-round now because of the demand and interest in greenhouse growing,” added Tina. 

Risser-Marvel was founded in 1924 by Abram and Naomi Risser and Robert and Evelyn Marvel. In the early years, the market was a dairy, according to Tina, and the families owned a herd of dairy cattle with their milk going to Hershey Foods into the 1960s. 

The Forrys took over full management of the operation in 2007 about 20 years after Greg did an internship in 1988 and a short time later became a farm manager.

“That spring (in 2007), they Rissers and Marvel took him out to lunch and said we want to retire, would Tina and you like to run the market?,” said Tina. “Needless to say, Greg didn’t finish his lunch that day.”

Asparagus grown at the farm as well as a plethora of fresh produce grown locally in a greenhouse can be purchased at Risser-Marvel Farm Market. Friday is Sorting Day and Greg and Tina Forry inspect the produce available to shoppers to buy. (James Mentzer)

Although this is technically the 100th year of the business, no special events to commemorate it are being planned. 

Instead, the Forrys, who have about 20 individuals working on the farm, will continue their tradition of having a sunflower festival in late summer as well as a corn maze, the latter beginning Sept. 21 and running through Nov. 2. 

“We’re having the corn maze and adding at least one activity,” said Tina about the family-friendly event. “We have a mix of activities so that people can come and play and have fun. There’s a little something for everybody.”

Read More: Risser-Marvel Farm Market corn maze opens for season

School tours during the last week of September through the first week in November are a fun learning experience for the students who visit the farm.

“They get to pick a pumpkin, they get a show and tell with some of the things we grow, they get a hayride, we lead them through the corn maze, they get cider and get to play in the play area,” said Tina.

An inside view of the 2023 Risser-Marvel Farm Market corn maze. (Will Trostel)

Greg believes the agricultural education of school-age children is important. He provides insight to the approximate 1,000 pre-school and school students who take a field trip annually down on the farm. 

“We make it a fun thing and a lot of it is using the pumpkins we have as decorations, but I tell the students that pumpkins and gourds are foods that people ate back in the day. They also fed them to the cattle,” said Greg. “I try to get the kids to understand that this is a farm and we are growing things to feed people. It’s important to me because it’s the next future generation. If you look at statistics, farmers are getting older and coming in at that age, you can impress on them the aspects of farming.”

Those aspects include a variety of different types of farming.

“I tell the kids I am a farmer and while I may not have animals here, there are many different types of farms,” added Greg. “Not all farms have animals. I tell them that fishermen farm the ocean, so not all farms happen to have animals.”

The school farm tour is a long-standing family tradition at the market. 

“We’re old enough now that parents who came here as kids are now coming here with their kids,” added Tina.

Another tradition is being able to purchase a variety of food at the market. Shoppers can purchase canned goods filled with perfectly preserved veggies at Risser-Marvel while also picking up some devilish delicious desserts to enjoy at home too.

“Whoopie pies are probably our most popular baked good and shoo-fly pie after that,” said Tina. “We deal with two home-based bakers, they are licensed and inspected, and we deal with some bakeries in the Lancaster County area.” 

Now in their mid-50s, Greg and Tina hope to continue to manage the farm until they retire. 

“It’s a legacy and we’re the caretakers of it,” said Tina about the farm that has been a Lebanon County staple for the past 100 years.

“Evelyn had this sense of what a market should be,” said Greg. “Tina, Evelyn and I have gone on bus trips and one of the things you see is that places call themselves markets but they are a gift shop. Their produce sections are really small.” 

“Our customers want a choice,” added Tina about why they choose to have a variety on their market shelves. “They want a sense of abundance and having a choice.”

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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