First lady Michelle Obama christened a new farmer’s market just across the street from the White House Thursday, telling shoppers if they eat locally that helps to advance health care reform.
“I have never seen so many people so excited about fruits and vegetables,” Mrs. Obama told the cheering crowd, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty beamed at her side.
Attendees said they were glad to have a place to shop on a weekday, and officials avoided the traffic nightmare many feared as the crowds grew and roads were closed, in part because the market was set up on a one-way street that dead-ends to another one-way lane.
Some passers-by hoping to get a glimpse of Mrs. Obama, who has made healthy eating one of her signature issues, were disappointed due to strict crowd control. Some market shoppers complained they had to go through metal detectors, which were deactivated at 3:40 p.m. after Mrs. Obama returned to the White House.
Mrs. Obama said the White House “kitchen garden” that she has championed since the spring has been “one of the greatest things that I’ve done in my life so far.”
There are no ties between the new market, run by Freshfarm, and the White House.
Mrs. Obama said the garden can play a role in the health care debate that has tied President Obama’s administration in knots.
“Little things like a garden can actually play a role in all of these larger discussions” about obesity, diabetes, heart disease and related issues such as access to primary care and preventative health services, she said.
“They make us think about these issues in a way that maybe sometimes the policy conversations don’t allow us to think,” the first lady said.
She also said it helps working moms.
“For those of us who are battling the time crunch and those of us [for] whom access to fresh food is an issue in our neighborhoods, farmers’ markets are a really important, valuable resource that we have to support,” she said, adding that the program running the new market offers benefits for seniors and people on food stamps.
She made sure everyone knew each SNAP and WIC dollar equals $2 at the market to buy fresh produce.
Intern Aisha Turner and some of her colleagues at the Center for American Progress down the street collected pennies and other coins from a change jar in their office to buy honeycrisp apples, peaches and empanadas.
Among the vendors were Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co. of Monkton, Md., selling flank steak for $12.99 per pound, and Keswick Creamery of central Pennsylvania.
“I loved what she said about working moms because sometimes it is hard to eat healthy,” said Melanie Dietrich Cochran, who helps run the dairy farm her parents started in Newburg, Pa.
She said the biggest seller of the day was the vermeer cheese, which recently won a bronze medal in New Jersey.
Business was busy after Mrs. Obama spoke, Ms. Cochran said.
“I don’t know how you can ask for anything better than a first lady’s endorsement,” she said.
Anthony Erb of Bethesda, who works at the Environmental Protection Agency, said he was glad Mrs. Obama was promoting local farmers, saying it helps his mission at the EPA.
“Also, it’s nice to have something downtown where I can actually buy fresh fruit,” he said.
Retired Air Force member Don Bronson said his wife makes “the most wonderful vegetable chili” and he hoped to pick up some fresh ingredients so “I can start pushing the schedule for when I get the chili.”
Mr. Bronson, of Glendale, was frustrated about the road closures since they made it harder for him to get to his job doing telecommunications at Veterans Affairs.
“It would have been nicer if they fenced it in, in front of the White House - it wouldn’t disrupt any traffic at all,” he said.
The road closures caused mild traffic backups for two blocks of H Street Northwest, a similar blockage to the those regularly caused by the presidential motorcade, or when Mr. Obama or President George W. Bush would attend church across from Lafayette Park.
Teresa Carmack had to go around the block to get back to work due to the road closure, but said she didn’t mind. In fact, she hoped to return at the end of the day to “get one tomato and eat it.”
The White House said the first lady bought some black kale, eggs, cherry tomatoes, mixed hot peppers, pears, fingerling potatoes, cheese and chocolate milk.
Kasie Coccaro, a Web producer at the Center for American Progress, said she liked how Mrs. Obama tied the farmer’s market into the health care debate, saying the first lady is an important advocate.
The first lady also said local markets help people get to know members of their community since they can strike up a conversation over peaches.
The market will run from 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays through the fall.