- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

Nina Planck grew up eating fresh fruits and vegetables. She remembers sinking her teeth into ripe red tomatoes and letting the juice drip down her chin. The juicy red orbs were pulled straight off the vines at her family’s Loudoun County farm. So, it was only natural for the farmer’s daughter to search out locally grown produce when she arrived in London in 1996 — but she couldn’t find one head of lettuce or one bunch of crisp, green asparagus. It was one of those things that made you go “Ummmh.”

“When I moved to London, I bought a guide to street markets. … Of course, London is famous for its markets. There are antique and flower markets all over Britain…. I was expecting to find farmers markets, call my mom and say, ‘I went to this place or that place for fresh fruits and vegetables,’” says Ms. Planck, 32.

She scoured the colorful streets of London, lined with antique shops, bookbinders and flower marts galore, in search of an open-air farmers market, but alas, there were none to be found. Instead, she found tomatoes imported from Israel that could have substituted for hockey pucks.

“I thought to myself, I’m going to start a farmers market only selling foods that farmers grow or raise themselves. I spent 1,400 pounds (approximately $2,175) of my own money, rented a site from a private landlord and did all of the publicity myself,” the Georgetown University graduate and former Time magazine correspondent says.

Four years ago, she opened the London Farmers’ Market — the first of its kind in London. The Prince of Wales bestowed his royal nod of approval.

“I invited Cabinet ministers, and the minister of agriculture, Nick Brown, rang the opening bell,” she says.

The opening day of the London Farmers’ Market created a lot of fanfare with local and national media.

Homesick after her splash in jolly Old England, Ms. Planck returned to the United States in late December 2001.

What she did for London-area farmers and city dwellers then she’s doing for District residents now. She moved to the colorful and multicultural Mount Pleasant community in Northwest and decided her neighborhood could use a farmers market.

“I knew the plaza would be perfect for the farmers market, so I started talking to local businesses and neighborhood organizations. I really went to work on the farmers market hard in January 2002, and we opened in May 2003. So it takes about one year,” Ms. Planck says of her most recent venture in the District.

She opened the first “growers only” farmers market in Lamont Park, a D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation site in Mount Pleasant. The bustling market, which is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., boasts 16 stands where farmers sell fruit, vegetables, beef, lamb, cheese, flowers, yogurt, plants, herbs, tea, brown eggs and more.

Siblings Betsy and Forrest Pritchard, seventh-generation farmers, make the hour-and-20-minute drive from their 350-acre farm in Berryville, Va., to the Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market every Saturday. They arrive around 8:30 a.m. to ensure that city folks get good, all-natural beef, pork, veal, goat and eggs. Thanks to Betsy’s sister-in-law, customers also can buy organic pasta made from oat flour and wheat flour at the market.

“It works well for our vegetarian clientele,” Ms. Pritchard, 34, says, laughing.

The sister and brother team also sell at farmers markets in Arlington and Alexandria, but they say they thoroughly enjoy the sights and sounds of the District, especially in a neighborhood that’s so diverse.

“We’re meeting all sorts of lovely people and good customers. And, it’s nice to meet city people with children because we always bring along a picture board so that the children can see a farm,” Ms. Pritchard says.

Cakelove bakery from U Street NW also has a stand at the Mount Pleasant market, and soon, Ms. Planck says, milk will be sold there, too.

“Everybody seems to love the farmers market in Mount Pleasant. We have wealthy customers, young people, and the Hispanic community shops there, and that excites me. Everyone comes together on Saturday mornings,” Ms. Planck says. “We are all using public space that belongs to all District taxpayers.”

Ms. Planck recalls 1980 when several farmers markets came to the Greater Washington area for the first time. She says several farmers markets opened, including one at RFK Stadium in Northeast, one in Arlington and one in Fairfax.

“We picked beets and chard that morning and arrived at the Arlington farmers market one hour late at 8 a.m. It was amazing. It was as if all the people from Arlington County had waited all their lives for farmers to sell fresh, local produce. They were so enthusiastic, and we never looked back,” Ms. Planck says of her family’s early days of selling produce at farmers markets.

Today she says it’s exciting talking with the mayor’s office about bringing more farmers markets to the District.

“I’ve got to say Neil Albert, the director of parks and recreation, has been great. Now, there’s a second small farmers market on park property in Georgetown,” she says.

Ms. Planck is the author of two books — “The Farmers’ Market Cookbook,” published by Hodder & Stoughton and “Real Food,” which will be published by HarperCollins.

She encourages farmers to participate in a program to promote healthy eating called the Farmers’ Market Nutrition program, which has caught on like wildfire at the Mount Pleasant market.

Under the program, low-income families and senior citizens can qualify to receive stamps that are honored only at farmers markets for the purchase of fruits and vegetables.

“We have the Farmers’ Market Nutrition program in the District, Maryland and Virginia, and my parents are taking in more farmers market food stamps at Mount Pleasant than @ any other location,” Ms. Planck says.

The nutrition program is only one of the projects she supports. Ms. Planck says she hopes to eliminate food poverty, explaining that anytime people don’t get good, healthful food, that’s food poverty.

“We are interested in how to get small, local slaughterhouses, we’re going to work on a farm-to-cafeteria program, to work with schools and a farm-to-restaurant program. We want all of our farmers markets to be vehicles for reducing food poverty,” she says.

Nowadays, Ms. Planck spends her time commuting between New York and the District. She recently was hired as the director of New York City’s Greenmarket, the largest farmers market program in the country. Greenmarket was founded in 1976 by an architect who figured out a way to connect nearly bankrupt farmers with urban shoppers. Ms. Planck says Greenmarket was the model she used when she created the London market.

“My family always admired Greenmarket, and in my home, Greenmarket was a household word. Barry Benepe was an architect and urban planner who recognized that farmland was disappearing from New York. He was determined to bring good food to New Yorkers,” Ms. Planck says.

Ms. Pritchard says her family farm, Smith Meadows, has dedicated 40 acres of the land to an apple orchard. Customers are welcome to visit the farm and grab a bag of apples. What’s more, her family enjoys giving tours of the farm.

“People can see the products up close, and we want them to see where the food comes from,” she says. The Pritchards’ livestock are free of pesticides, herbicides and hormones.

So far, the Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market experience has been lots of fun: meeting college students, young professionals and the nice cross section of individuals who come out to shop on Saturday mornings.

“It’s just nice to see the broad spectrum of people,” Ms. Pritchard says.

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