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People shop for groceries at the weekly farmers' market held in Clark Park evert Saturday. Experts say the growth in farmers' markets across the country has been spurred largely by the nationwide obesity epidemic.

When Andy Anderson is a farmer, he's also a teacher, a salesperson and a cashier.

The manager of Pennypack Farms in Horsham, Pa., Anderson both grows produce and runs educational sessions about sustainable living.

He also brings his wares to the farmers' market in Clark Park every week, part of a rising trend of farmers' markets held both in the Philadelphia region and nationwide.

Over the last decade, the number of farmers' markets across the country has increased by over 250 percent to about 4,385 in 2006, according to the Farmers Market Coalition nonprofit organization.

The local area is no exception to the trend, with ten seasonal markets opening within the past year.

And as markets keep sprouting up across the region, local officials say it's the recent emphasis on healthy eating that has led to the surge.

"It's taken the obesity and child obesity epidemics for people to start thinking more about their food," said David Adler, president of the Food Trust, a local non-profit involved with 28 farmers' markets in the region. "People are more interested in connecting to higher quality food."

In Philadelphia, Adler explained, the markets are especially important in providing nutritional food to urban areas.

"In a lot of neighborhoods where there's not necessarily a lot of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, they definitely fulfill a need," he said.

Institutions both big and small have taken notice: National grocery chain Whole Foods jumped on the farmers' market bandwagon two years ago when it began offering weekly or monthly farmers markets outside of its stores nationwide.

Popular items eventually may be sold inside the stores, Whole Foods regional manager Sarah Kenney said.

"It's just an opportunity for customers to try some new products and for local farmers to sell their products," she said.

Penn has also joined the fray, as Dining Services began its own farmers' market outside the 1920 Commons dining hall this fall. The market, which offers seasonal produce, jams and spreads and other goods, has been a "big success," said Dining spokeswoman Laurie Cousart.

She added that Penn hopes to continue the program next year.

More traditionally, the farmers' market at Clark Park, located right off campus at 43rd and Baltimore streets, has grown to become one of the largest in the city.

The market - which convenes year-round on Saturday mornings and, from June through Thanksgiving, on Thursdays afternoons as well - and includes big-timers like Anderson, who runs a farm jointly owned by 250 local residents, and Rachel Landis, who comes to Clark Park equipped with the produce grown by her family's farms.

Penn students who shop at the Clark Park market say they appreciate more than just the nutrition it offers.

"Better quality, better prices and a better cause," said College sophomore Rose Feinberg, who shops at the market at least once a week. "I'd much rather support local farmers and local produce than whatever comes from Fresh Grocer."

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