Farmers Markets Sprout Up All Over the City

Posted May 5, 2010 at 5:40pm

Eastern Market, which opened in 1873, may be the mother of all local farmers markets, but 2010 will see even more markets budding around the District.

Today, the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District will open its farmers market for the first time. The 16-
vendor market, located behind the Navy Yard Metro station, will be open on Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. and is targeted at office workers, neighborhood residents, baseball fans and moviegoers. The market opens today in time for an evening Nationals game against the Atlanta Braves, and beginning on June 3, the BID will begin its annual free outdoor movies on Thursday nights. Founders hope visitors will take time to enjoy the neighborhood when they come for other attractions.

“The idea is, it’s not just groceries,” explained Claire Schaefer, deputy executive director for the BID.

That’s not the only farmers market opening: The well-known market next to the White House will open for the summer today. First lady Michelle Obama pushed for the Freshfarm Market on Vermont Avenue Northwest, which first opened in mid-September. Bernie Prince, co-founder and co-director of the nonprofit Freshfarm Markets, has plenty of experience opening markets. Another market will open near the Department of Health and Human Services on June 2, bringing the number of neighborhood markets the group operates in the District to six.

Prince said the group looks for locations where it can partner with neighborhood organizations, bring a new customer base to the farmers and generate interest from consumers on a specific day of the week. Markets that Freshfarm opened and has since closed in Georgetown, which was overserved, and Baltimore, where the faltering economy meant less business, showed what doesn’t work. The company has had success elsewhere around the District, though, and Prince attributes that to a new awareness of environmental and health issues.

“I think people are really rethinking where does my food come from?” she said.

The Capitol Riverfront market will build on the success of a holiday market the BID has sponsored in December the past two years, Schaefer said. A market at the nearby Department of Transportation held on Tuesdays during the day prompted calls for a market more accessible to residents who return home later in the day. The business improvement district is cooperating with Diverse Markets Management and the Donohoe Co., which owns the lot at M Street and New Jersey Avenue Southeast, where the market will take place.

Getting a market off the ground is no easy task. Mike Berman, director of Diverse Markets Management, said he started talking to the BID about a summer market in January after the holiday market wrapped up. The president of the Donohoe Co., a member of the BID’s board of directors, was willing to let them use the site as an in-kind donation. Berman said the Office of Planning calls this “temporary urbanism” — using a site where development is planned for the future for community events now.

“When he’s ready to build, we will find another space,” he said, citing as possibilities two parks that will be ready near Navy Yard in the next couple of years.

Once the site was chosen, Berman recruited farmers to get involved. The market will sell a wide range of mostly food items, including baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, tea and locally roasted coffee, salsa, sorbet, pickles, Belgian waffles, and jams and jellies. He hopes to add more vendors as the summer goes on.

The Capitol Riverfront market will be open until November, but Schaefer hopes to get an idea of how well the market is serving residents in the BID’s annual September survey. In the end, she hopes people will want to extend the market later into the year and into the evenings.