- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Every Saturday morning, Sheldon Harris awakes and gets himself a cup of coffee. Then he heads over to the farmers’ market on H Street Northeast.

“It’s an unbelievable positive for the neighborhood,” says the longtime lawyer and Capitol Hill resident. “You see all your neighbors here.”

Carved out of unused corners or sidewalk or sections of parking lot, urban farmers’ markets like this one, awash in the bright colors of freshly picked flowers and fruits, are becoming a familiar scene as spring moves into summer. Meanwhile, their country cousins start to sprout up just a few miles outside the city limits.

If you are looking to jump-start the season this weekend, a taste of summer, and a bit of history, is never far away.

The three-year-old H Street Market in Northeast is operated by FreshFarm Markets, a nonprofit organization that seeks to create urban-rural partnerships by providing fresh, top-of-the-line local produce and other market items directly to consumers in the Chesapeake region.

Here you can find organic salad mix, artisanal cheeses, and fresh meats and poultry. FreshFarm also sponsors other markets throughout the District, including the renowned market in Dupont Circle, an extravaganza for foodies that has added zest to many a jaded urbanite’s weekend.

“We really try to bring the community together,” says Bernadine Prince, co-director of FreshFarm Markets. “The market starts building value in the community.”

To that end, market organizers on H Street work closely with H Street Main Street, part of the DC Main Streets program, which is seeking to promote and revitalize the neighborhood.

“H Street is finally getting its opportunity,” says Shalonda Hunter, executive director of H Street Main Street. “It’s on its way to becoming a destination like U Street or Adams Morgan.”

The H Street operation is considerably smaller than FreshFarm’s Dupont Circle market, which features more than 30 farmers. But that doesn’t stop the line from forming early on H Street for some of Atwater Bakery’s fabled scones. The bread is so popular it takes only about an hour for it to sell out.

Still, smaller operations can mean higher prices. On H Street, which cuts through neighborhoods with residents drawn from a variety of socioeconomic levels, not everyone can afford what some of the vendors have to offer. One woman strolls into the market but is taken aback by the $4 head of hydroponic lettuce that greets her near the entrance. She quickly walks away shaking her head. Had she ventured a little farther into the market space, she would have found other lettuce at half that price.

Farmers’ markets are more popular than ever, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with more than 3,700 operating in 2004, a jump from 1,755 in just 10 years. These days, consumers are a lot savvier about the products they buy. They like buying produce that is in season, not just shipped from far away.

And farmers’ markets offer the savvy consumer more than just an opportunity to smell the melons or sample a strawberry. Meeting places like these offer neighborhood residents a chance to come together in a time-honored ritual.

Writing in “Washington: Capital City 1879-1950,” historian Constance McLaughlin Green noted that farmers’ markets functioned as public institutions where rich and poor could rub elbows.

“The public market, patronized by society matrons as regularly as boardinghouse keepers and economical housewives, was another Washington institution,” she writes.

Before the advent of places like Giant and Safeway, market buildings dotted the city, many designed with state-of-the-art features by well-known architects like Adolph Cluss (1825-1905). The German-born and Brussels-trained architect was responsible for a number of public buildings around the city, including the 1872 incarnation of Center Market.

This redoubtable structure, located in and around the present site of the National Archives, stretched for two city blocks and featured 1,000 indoor stalls and spaces for 300 wagons outside. Sidewalks were extra wide around the market to accommodate the throngs of shoppers at what was considered one of the largest and most modern food markets in the United States.

Center Market was among the longest-lived markets in the District and was located in various buildings from 1801 to 1931. Mathew Brady photographed it from his studio window at 7th and Pennsylvania. Daniel Webster, who was so concerned with the quality of his repasts that he traveled with his personal chef, shopped here. So did Ulysses S. Grant, who reportedly was well-known for the bluntness of his language.

“Grant was sort of an Ernest Hemingway character,” says David Fowler, a St. Mary’s County farmer, while rapidly shelling peas for a customer over at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, the last of the great market buildings still in use in the city. “He was very hard to know.”

Mr. Fowler’s family has occupied a place on the “farmer’s line” at Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market, designed by Cluss in 1873, since they moved there from Center Market when it closed to make way for the “federalization,” of the area. He grew up with tales from both places.

“During the Civil War, they used to search the farmer’s wagons every time they came into town,” he says. “My family got used to it though — they just took it in stride.”

Inside the building itself, other longtime merchants occupy the stalls every day but Monday. Many of the sellers are on a first-name basis with their customers.

The Calomiris family moved to their stall from Center Market in the late 1940s, and are known for their produce. Melvin Imnan has been running Market Poultry since the late 1970s, and recently expanded his product line to include lower-fat turkey products. The Canales family, in the market for 14 years, sells custom meats and operates the deli.

Then there’s newcomer Joanne Ryu, who just took over Park Produce a few weeks ago.

“I’m so interested in the market,” says Ms. Ryu, who lives in Vienna. “It’s so historical. I’m so proud to work here.”

If you care to come closer to the source, you may want to venture out to southern Maryland yourself, where farm stands and larger markets dot the countryside this time of year. Drive carefully, though, because there are clusters of Amish and Mennonite communities sprinkled throughout Charles and St. Mary’s counties, and you are likely to encounter an Amish farmer with a wagon making his way along the edge of the highway on his way to market.

Early mornings find Amish women setting up their stands of local peas and onions in the parking lot of the library at Charlotte Hall. They’ve brought flowers and crafts as well, and one stand features pieces of a quilter’s art.

“The raspberries are beginning to ripen,” says Hannah Stolftzus, who lives in St. Mary’s County. “They’ll look good if we can get some rain.”

Just don’t expect all of the produce to come from the farmers themselves. Some of it, like the early tomatoes being sold recently, came from the regional auction house.

Other Amish farmers, along with their secular counterparts, can be found at the farmers’ and flea market on Route 5 in Charlotte Hall.

“It’s a wonderful place to come,” says Clarice Spears, of Charlotte Hall, who says she’s been coming to the market for about 50 years. “The fruits and vegetables are so fresh.”

Farmer John Gardiner, of nearby Mechanicsville, has been selling produce at the market for about 30 years, although he’s noticed that fewer people are stopping by on Wednesdays, once a busy market day.

“People just don’t cook no more,” he says. “Everybody’s working outside the home. My mother used to have dinner on the table seven days a week.”

On Saturdays, though, just about everyone turns out. Farmers bring their rabbits, ducks and ducklings for sale, along with their produce. Tourists stop by on their way to the beach. And regulars take the time to visit with each other and the vendors, many of whom they know my name.

Not that the latter aren’t busy.

“I get my girls to help out on Saturdays.” says Carl Pratt of Brandywine, whose father started his farm, Crosstrails, back in the 1950s. “Everybody who works here is basically related.”

If you want to get still closer to the source, Butler’s Orchard in Germantown may be the place for you. Here, you can pick your own fresh fruit — if it’s in season, of course — or shop at Butler’s own farm market.

“Our goal is to have something for the public to pick every day,” says Todd Butler, one of four children of George and Shirley Butler, who bought 37 acres of peach orchard in 1950. “People don’t seem to care as much what they pick as long as they have something to pick.”

What they care about, says Mr. Butler, is the experience of actually being on the farm, going out into the fields, and seeing firsthand where it all begins.

“We get a lot of seniors who may have grown up on a farm themselves,” he says. “And we get a lot of mothers with children who have never been on a farm before.”

Today the farm has greatly expanded its acreage and moved from peaches to berries and Christmas trees, with a highlight being the strawberry crop that starts in late May. By mid to late June, Mr. Butler expects blueberries and blackberries to be ripe and ready to pick. And it’s still a family affair: Mr. Butler manages the farm store, brother Wade runs the farm, and sister Susan works the administrative end.

“My mom still works here just about every day,” says Mr. Butler, who like his siblings still lives close to farm operations.

At Butler’s farm market, you can find produce from local farmers as well as products like pancake mix and maple syrup. And you may find food from outside the local area as well. The origin doesn’t seem to matter much to Rockville’s Joanna Stern, who spent one morning recently hefting cantaloupes.

“This is twice as heavy as the ones you can get at the supermarket,” she says. “You just know that it’s going to taste great.”

Sampling the area markets

Looking for a taste of sum- mer? Here’s the infor- mation on the markets mentioned in the story, along with a sampling of other markets in the vicinity.

District

• Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market: 1500 block of 20th Street Northwest between Q Street and Massachusetts Avenue (in the PNC Bank parking lot). 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, April-December. 202/362-8889 or freshfarmmarket.org

• Eastern Market Outdoor Farmers Market: Seventh Street between C Street and North Carolina Avenue Southeast. Hours vary depending on which part of the facility you visit, indoor or outdoor. 202/544-0083 or easternmarket.net

• Georgetown Market in Rose Park: 26th and O streets Northwest. Open-air/seasonal market. 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, April-October. 202/333-4946

• H Street FreshFarm Market: 600 block of H Street Northeast. 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, May to October. 202/362-8889 or freshfarmmarket.org.

• Historic Brookland Farmers’ Market: 10th and Otis streets Northeast (east side of the Brookland Metro station). Seasonal market. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday May-October, 4-7 p.m. Tuesday June-October. 202/526-4848

• New Morning Farm Markets: Sheridan School, 36th Street and Alton Place Northwest. Seasonal market. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, June-March, 4:30-8 p.m. Tuesday June-September. 814/448-3904

• Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market: North end of Eighth Street Northwest (between D and E streets). 3-7 p.m. Thursday, April-November. 202/362-8889 or freshfarmmarket.org

• U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers Market: Whitten Building parking lot, 12th Street and Independence Avenue Southwest. Seasonal market. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, June-October. 800/384-8704 or www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets

• U.S. Department of Transportation Farmers Market: 400 7th St. SW. Open pavilion within the complex. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.Tuesday, May-November. 202/366-0674 or www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/States/DistrictofColumbia.htm

Maryland

• Butler’s Orchard: 22200 Davis Mill Road, Germantown. Hours change with picking conditions. 301/972-3299 or butlersorchard.com

• Charlotte Hall Farmers Market and Auction: 29890 Three Notch Road, Charlotte Hall. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays year-round. 301/884-3966.

• The Great Frederick Fair Farmers’ Market: Fairgrounds, 797 E. Patrick St., Frederick. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday year-round; 3:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday May-November. 301/663-5895

• Montgomery Farm Women’s Co-op Market: 7155 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. 301/652-2291

• St. Michaels FreshFarm Market: Muskrat Park on the St. Michaels Harbor, corner of Willow and Green streets, St. Michaels. Open-air/seasonal market. 8:30 a.m.-noon Saturday, April-October. 202/362-8889 or freshfarmmarket.org

• North St. Mary’s Farmers Market: Charlotte Hall Library parking lot at the Intersection of Routes 5 & 6, Charlotte Hall. Monday-Saturday, daylight hours, Mid-April to October. 301/475-4200, Ext. 1402 (the county’s Agriculture Division) or www.co.saint-marys.md.us/decd/

• Silver Spring FreshFarm Market: Ellsworth Drive between Fenton and Cedar streets, Silver Spring. Open-air/seasonal market. 9 a.m.-1 p.m.Saturday, May-October. 202/362-8889 or freshfarmmarket.org

• Takoma Park Farmers Market: Old Town section on Laurel Avenue, between Eastern and Carroll avenues, Takoma Park. Open-air/year-round market. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. 301/768-4588 or www.takomaparkmarket.com

Virginia

• Arlington County Farmers Market: North 14th Street and North Courthouse Road, Arlington. Open-air/seasonal market. 703/228-6423 or www.arlingtonfarmersmarket.com

• Ballston Farmers Market: North Stuart and 9th streets, across from Ballston Metro, Arlington. Open-air/seasonal market. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, June-October. 703/528-3527

• Fairfax County Farmers’ Market: Wakefield Park, 8100 Braddock Road, Annandale. Open-air/seasonal market. 2:30-6 p.m.Wednesday, May-October. 703/642-0128

• Vienna Farmers Market: Nottoway Park on Courthouse Road, Vienna. Open-air/seasonal market. 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Wednesday, May-October. 703/642-0128 or www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/States/Virginia.htm

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