Archive for the ‘Farmers Markets’ Category

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Outdoor Farmers Market at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

A farmers market is a physical retail market featuring foods sold directly by farmers and others to consumers. Farmers’ markets are most frequently outdoors and typically consist of booths, tables or stands, where farmers sell fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and sometimes prepared foods and beverages.

For such a heavily urbanized area with no actual working farms within the city limits, D.C. boasts a large number of diverse farmers markets. Both large and small markets, they offer a selection of fresh produce and numerous other products. Most are outdoors and open seasonally, like one of my favorites, the Vermont Avenue Farmers Market.  Other larger ones, like Eastern Market, are indoors and open year round.  And some are less traditional and might not even be initially thought of by most as a farmers market, like The Maine Avenue Fish Market.  On this lunchtime bike ride to end the week, I went by the outdoor farmers market at the headquarters for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is located in a parking lot outside the U.S.D.A. Headquarters on the corner of Independence Avenue and 12th Street (MAP), across the street from the Smithsonian Metro stop in southwest D.C.

Celebrating its 20th summer, the U.S.D.A. Farmers Market opened for the 2015 season on May 1st, and will operate from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every Friday until the day before Halloween. Managed by the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the U.S.D.A.’s Farmers Market is considered by the Department as a “living laboratory” for farmers market operations across the country. As a model for others, the market supports the local economy, increases marketing opportunities for farmers and small businesses, provides access to an assortment of local and regionally sourced products, and increases access to healthy, affordable food in D.C.

So regardless of whether you get there by bike, or some other way, I recommend checking out either the U.S.D.A. Farmer’s Market, or any other farmer’s market near you.  If you try some of the many free samples while you’re there, you’ll most likely buy more to take home with you like I did.

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Eastern Market

There used to be a city-wide system of public marketplaces in D.C. The system was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original design plan for the city, which called for an Eastern, a Central and a Western Market. The markets were intended to supplement existing markets in Georgetown, and across the Potomac River in Alexandria, and provide a steady and orderly supply of goods to urban residents. One of those markets is still in operation today. Known as Eastern Market, it is located at 225 7th Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and it was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson issued a proclamation calling for Eastern Market to be set up at 7th and L Streets, near the Washington Navy Yard in southeast D.C. The original market received heavy damage during the British attack of 1814 known as the “Burning of Washington,” when many of the Federal government’s buildings, including the Department of the Treasury Building, the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building were burned. The market was repaired and remained active until a half a century later, when the Civil War caused a disruption in the availability and delivery of supplies. The market resumed normal operations after the war, but continued to struggle and fell into a state of disrepair. By 1871 Eastern Market was nearly abandoned, and was described in a local newspaper account as a “disgraceful shed.”

Eastern Market relocated in 1873 to its present location in a building designed by Adolf Cluss, a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the national capitol city by designing dozens of local post-Civil War buildings, among them the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, Calvary Baptist Church, and the Franklin and Sumner Schools. Enjoying a renewed success as Capitol’s Hill’s population increased in the early 20th century, the market needed to expand. So the city’s Office of Public Works, under architect Snowden Ashford, designed the new addition containing the Center and North Halls in 1908.  Eastern Market was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

In the years since, Eastern Market has had more than its share of difficulties, but it has continued to not only persevere, but thrive. In the early 1900’s, the market had to ward off D.C. Health Department, which had made numerous findings of deficiencies with its sanitation. But Eastern Market survived. In the 1920’s a chain supermarket opened right across the street from the market. It cut into its business, but the market survived. Then in the 1940’s, D.C. bureaucrats proposed transforming Eastern Market into a supermarket. And a decade later, a congressional bill envisioned turning a revamped market into a national children’s theater. Neither of these proposals was successful, and the market survived. In the 1950’s, the city license bureau criticized the market as uneconomical, and in 1960’s the D.C. health commissioner declared Eastern Market “a menace to public health.” But the criticisms of the market were no more successful in shutting down Eastern Market than the proposals to change it. Additional challenges could not bring an end to Eastern Market either, such as vendors having to work without leases when the city refused to renew expired leases, a proposal for a freeway to run through the site, and the urban economic downturn after riots in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Eastern Market’s continued existence occurred in 2007, when the building was badly damaged by an early-morning 3-alarm fire. Part of the roof collapsed, and The Washington Post has described the South Hall as “gutted so badly that birds can now fly in through the front windows and out the back ones.” Following the fire the Mayor vowed to rebuild Eastern Market, and even provided a temporary market annex, known as the “East Hall,” across the street on the grounds of Hine Junior High School to be used during the rebuilding process. After two years of reconstruction work, Eastern Market reopened its doors in June of 2009, ending the only extended hiatus in the market’s 210 years of continuous operation.

The other city markets are now long gone. Center Market, where the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building is today, was razed in 1931. And Western Market, which was located at 21st and K streets in northwest D.C., was closed in 1961. But when the D.C. government closed the other public markets, Charles Glasgow, Sr., who operated two stalls at Eastern Market, suggested that he assume management responsibility for the market. The Eastern Market Corporation was formed and leased the South and Center Halls, now managed by Eastern Market Ventures. So Eastern Market remains open, and continues to host a thriving farmers’ market.

Everything from finest meats, poultry and seafood, to pasta, delicatessen, baked goods and cheeses from around the world are sold from indoor stalls during the week.  There is also a lunch counter where you can get a bite to eat while you shop.  And on the weekends, recently-harvested produce direct from farms in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia are sold outside along the covered sidewalk.  Artisans and antiques dealers also sell their goods outside the market on weekends, while live music adds some entertainment, making Eastern Market a popular stop for locals as well as tourists.

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Vermont Avenue Farmers Market

Vermont Avenue Farmers Market

For my last springtime bike ride before summer officially begins this weekend, I leisurely rode around the downtown area for a while before going to a farmers market named Farmfresh Markets by the White House, located on Vermont Avenue between H and I Streets in northwest D.C. (MAP), just across from the northeast corner of Lafayette Park.  Every Thursday from April through October, the street is closed to traffic while it temporarily becomes an open-air market and street fair.  Although only a block long, a number of booths and vendors set up with a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other products like breads and baked goods, kettle corn, artisan cheeses, milk and yogurt, fresh-cut flowers, and jellies and jams. There were also some places serving lunch, and even a street musician providing background music.

But on this occasion it was one particular booth run by a Mennonite family that caught my attention. It was operated by Kinley and Rebecca Coulter and their family, from Coulter Farms of Honey Grove, Pennsylvania. They were selling a variety of products, including organic meat, free range eggs, raw milk cheeses, and a variety of flavors of raw honey.  What initially caught my eye was a display for their honey that included a large hive and a swarm of hundreds of live bees, which they had set up on a table in the front of their booth. It was all behind glass, so it was safe enough to get up close, and it was very interesting to stop and watch for a while.

The Coulters also had a large grill set up and were serving lunch, which consisted entirely of products from their farm. I had a certified organic 100% grass-fed beef sausage with fresh grilled peppers and onions on a homemade roll, and a big glass of iced tea flavored with raw honey and fresh-picked mint.  I then took my lunch across the street to eat it in Lafayette Park. I ate on a bench near a fountain in the park, and listened to the street musician as I watched an ongoing protest in front of the northern portico of the White House.

There are a number of farmers markets in the D.C. area during the warmer months, including one sponsored by the Department of Agriculture every Friday.  While I have visited a number of them, the one on Vermont Avenue remains my favorite.  And this ride and stopping by the market was a relaxing and enjoyable way to say goodbye to spring.  And it left me looking forward to many more rides during the coming summer.

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