We’re Growing

This Saturday, Pike Central Farm Market opens for the 2018 season! Over thirty vendors will be at the market – located at the Pike & Rose shopping complex in the parking lot beside REI – every Saturday through November from 9am – 1:30pm.

The following week – on Saturday, May 5 – is the grand opening of our fourth market, Central Farm Market at Westfield Montgomery. The market is located at the corner of Westlake Drive and Westlake Terrace in Bethesda, and is also open weekly from 9am – 1:30pm. Over three dozen vendors, many of them familiar faces as well as a few new farmers to the Central Farm Markets family, are in the lineup including Hog Haven Farm and McCleaf’s Orchard.

Although the market locations are less than five miles apart, consider that over 200,000 people live in the surrounding communities. As the local food/farm-to-table movement continues to grow, the ability to serve farmers market customers at a single location becomes challenging for even the most experienced market system.

According to USDA statistics, the number of farmers markets increased 2.3% between 2015 and 2016. The Sustainable Food Trust reported an overall 15% increase in crops grown specifically for direct-to-consumer sales which they defined as through farmers markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture).

Let’s examine some of the advantages for both customers and vendors for markets in planned communities.

Creating Community

Both Pike & Rose and Westfield developers have planned their communities as walkable, bike-able, livable areas to offer residents easy access to the facets most important to their lifestyles. Recognizing the demand for regional agricultural products, the developers included locales for farmers markets in their master plans. The demand is evident by the continuing growth of both existing vendors as well as new and beginning producers.

A dedicated space within a community for weekly markets also creates an opportunity where neighbors can gather and socialize in addition to shopping. Live music, children’s programs, chef demos, prepared food and seating areas are features of both markets designed to add more to your Saturdays.

Parking

This, by far, has always been the biggest complaint I’ve encountered from customers when it comes to urban markets. Both locations offer plenty of free parking. At Pike & Rose there is free 2-hour on-site parking in the garages and free parking available at 5800 Montrose Road –  only a four-minute walk to the market.

If you’ve purchased far more than you can carry back to your vehicle, leave it with the market concierge at the information tent to be loaded into your car as you exit the market venue.

Vendor Logistics

When a market system opens a new location, it allows many of the existing vendors to expand their businesses. Visit multiple Central Farm Markets locations and you’ll see many of the same vendors. Having two markets near each other in densely populated regions is a vendor’s dream as it allows many to use a common delivery vehicle to attend both markets. This reduces overall operating costs as well as the carbon footprint. After all, the rise of local foods promoted good ecology…right?

According to the Farmers Market Coalition, the local and regional produce you’ll find at farmers’ markets travels about twenty-seven times less distance than the produce found at grocery stores, much of it being picked and packed with a day of purchase. Now that’s fresh!

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We’re farmers, too!

Just because you can’t eat it doesn’t mean it wasn’t farmed. While food is first and foremost at farmers markets there are several vendors who are every bit farmers in the sense that they grow the products they offer…but you can’t eat them.

Flowers

Nothing puts an immediate smile on shoppers faces like gorgeous flowers. The vibrant colors and assorted shapes offer instant happiness. While it is still early in the season for the full spectrum of garden bouquets, there are still plenty of blooms to grace the lives of Central Farm Markets customers.

Floradise Orchids, the newest flower vendor at Bethesda, have been cultivating orchids since 1979. They grow hundreds of varieties and have a dedicated following of enthusiasts. In addition to selling individual plants at the market, their lovely orchids are often seen in professional offices, lobbies, restaurants, spas and embassies throughout the DMV area.

For those wanting fresh-cut flowers and bouquets, Wollam Gardens (Bethesda), Sunnyside Flowers (Pike), and Cabin Hill Farm (Mosaic) all offer individual stems and bouquets. Just like fruits and vegetables, flowers have their own seasons. Jeanette Smith of Cabin Hill Farm explained the differences between winter and summer annuals. “The flowers showing up at market this time of year have been slowly growing since last fall like rudbeckia, snap dragons, stock, Canterbury Bells and bachelor buttons. As the summer heats up, those give way to sunflowers, zinnias, statice, amaranth and celosia that were planted in May after the threat of frost. As cooler weather arrives in the fall, the brilliant dahlias and asters make their way to the market.”

Claire O’Brien, grower and florist at Sunnyside Flowers, also pointed out that just like other farmers who make educated choices on the varieties and species which best serve their market, flower growers do the same. For instance, growing the varieties of sunflowers specific to cut flowers which do not produce pollen or ones that stay nice for the entire week, if not longer, such as lisianthus.

Fiber

Just as colorful and unique as market flowers, the yarns and knitted wares at Kiparoo Farm (Bethesda) are farmed products. Driving back the lane to Annie Kelly’s 158-acre working sheep and dairy farm, visitors are greeted by her flock of Border Leicester sheep grazing peacefully in lush green pastures. But wait…they’re all white. The magic happens in a small building behind the farmhouse where kettles of color meet skeins of white yarn after it returns from the mill where it is sorted, cleaned, carded and spun into various types of yarns. When I visited Kiparoo Farm last spring, I saw an entire shed full of freshly shorn fleeces bagged up and ready to be sent off for processing which showed up at the market in the fall as yarn ready for winter projects.

Every bit of a farmer as the rest of us, I look forward to exchanging the “what did your sheep do this week?” stories with Annie in a comforting comradery of validation to our agrarian lives.

For those who want to see where your wool comes from, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (April 20, 21 and 22) is the Countryside Artisan Studio Tour and Kiparoo Farm is one of the stops. There will be lots of lambs to cuddle. NOTE: Kiparoo Farm will not be at Bethesda Central Farmers Market this Sunday due to the studio tour.

Market Mashups

Recently I became involved in a heated discussion about prepared food vendors at farmers markets. My antagonist, a fellow farmer, maintained their moral superiority for attending a “producer-only” market claiming that many farmers markets have become upscale mobile food courts.

“Are you still eating gas station breakfast burritos and Starbuck’s muffins and coffee for breakfast on market day?” I asked. Their silent glare was all I needed to know I had stepped on a nerve. To add insult, I whipped out my iPhone and pulled up a few pictures – a wood-fired pizza topped with chorizo and cilantro sprouts, a rice bowl with pickled vegetables and Korean BBQ topped with a fried egg.

“Yeah, that looks good, but they probably shop at Costco,” was the retort.

*Queue sound of game show buzzer for wrong answer*

“No. Actually, I watch each week as the prepared food vendors walk around the hour prior to the opening of market to pick out their ingredients for the day. Some even get from me so I’m essentially eating my own food that I didn’t have to cook.” But my conversation didn’t stop there.

Statistics reported that in 2017 50.3 million people ate at a fast-food restaurant ten or more times in thirty days and twenty million dined in a sit-down restaurant in the same period.

Recognizing the growing number of people who want convenience combined with fresh, locally produced foods, farmers markets have evolved to meet consumer demands.

To set the bar, Central Farm Markets includes specific guidelines in their operating regulations for vendors to maximize the use of local products. For instance, condiments such as mustard and ketchup must be made by or for the vendor selling it using local produce.

There is more collaboration between vendors taking place at farmers markets than ever before. Didn’t get to see the prepared food vendors shopping first thing in the morning on market day? Stick around after the close of market and you’ll see scenes such as Heirloom Kitchen gathering up ingredients from fellow vendors that will return to market as delicious soups, fermented foods makers with crates of raw ingredients and bakers amassing fruits and cheeses.

The latest generation of market vendors are taking prepared foods to the next level. The Gather Company provides culinary services, including prepared meals that use ingredients fresh from the market.

In addition to the feel-good atmosphere of vendors helping vendors, Central Farm Markets considers the waste associated with ready-to-eat products. Vendors serving foods that are prepared for consumption at the market are asked to use compostable or recyclable plate-ware and cutlery. No poly foam containers are permitted.

Having prepared foods that used ingredients from the markets has a bonus. Consumers get to taste ingredients they may easily overlook at the market because they are unfamiliar with their preparation.

Look for market mash-ups throughout the season as vendors enjoy pointing out when they combine other producers’ ingredients to cook up a delicious success.

Biking to Market

With the arrival of warmer weather, everyone wants to maximize their time outdoors. For some, this means riding their bicycles to their favorite farmers market. By utilizing baskets, saddle bags and even a backpack, shoppers can stock up on local goods while getting to market on two wheels instead of four. In addition to exercise and sunshine, there’s an added bonus – not having to worry about a parking spot!

Getting There

From Bethesda to Georgetown, the Capital Crescent Trail is a 9-feet wide asphalt path providing easy access to Pike, Bethesda and Central Farm Market at Westfield Montgomery. For the Mosaic market, two popular trails – the Cross Country Trail and the W&OD offer plenty of bike access and low stress bike friendly street routes in and around Mosaic District.

There are bike racks for parking at Westfield, Mosaic and Pike. At Bethesda, riders often use sign poles located on the market ground or stash their bike next to a keen vendor who will keep an eye on their bike while they shop.

Packing is Key

Over the years I’ve seen everything from chefs balancing two whole pigs on either side of their rear tires to a mother toting two kids along with a week’s worth of groceries on a Surly Big Dummy. Bike culture abounds in the region and customers can be seen biking to market in the most brutal conditions. There is one thing on which they all agree – packing market bounty makes all the difference in getting it home intact.

There are numerous ways to carry items on a bike – saddle bags on the front, back or both, a basket affixed to the front and/or rear and a backpack/messenger bag. Saddle bags that easily attach/detach to the frame can double as market bags which means you won’t be tempted to buy more than you can carry.

Homemade or purchased equipment doesn’t matter as the laws of physics apply the same to both. Here are tips for carrying your purchases home from Central Farm Markets on your bicycle:

  • Distribute the weight evenly, packing the heaviest and most durable items in the bottom of the carrier and the most delicate on top.
  • Separate cold and warm goods, either in separate carriers or with a physical barrier. Keep cold items together. An insulated bag works great. Frozen products double as cold packs for perishable items such as cheeses, yogurt and milk.
  • Consider double-bagging anything with the potential to break or leak.
  • Carry a supply of rubber bands to add extra security to items such as eggs and to-go food containers. Small bungee cords are a plus for securing odd sized items. For delicate fruits that can bruise and glass containers, add a few sheets of bubble wrap to your totes for cushioning.