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Why Do You Shop at Farmers' Markets?


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Confession: I bought two cantaloupes at Giant this week because they were only $1 each.

Normally, I wouldn't. This is prime season for local produce. Lemongrass and lemons at the supermarket, yes. Peaches, no. However, I'm a sucker for bargains.

It didn't even phase me that these were small spherical melons shipped from California instead of the heavy oblong Athena melons from Florida or other Southern places a bit closer to our area.

Last night, as I passed through the living room, the scent of one of the melons sitting on the window sill was powerful enough for me to transfer it to the refrigerator, and this morning, slice it open for breakfast.

I swear, it tasted like chemicals. Yes, I know. Okay, like something artificial and unpleasant. While there was not a speck of green in between the rind and the pale orange flesh, the texture did not seem quite ripe. Passing Toigo's stand several times this past Sunday, I snatched samples of the melons they were selling and there is no comparison.

Given all the talk about locavorism and farmers markets these days, it's hard not to feel self-conscious about following trends and demographic conformity. "We like sheep" and all that. Yet, this was what mental health professionals call a break-through and Buddhists satori. Sometimes "fashionable" is a good thing.

The cantaloupes are going back to Giant and with luck, I'll be hauling something local back from my walk this evening.

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Confession: I bought two cantaloupes at Giant this week because they were only $1 each....

I swear, it tasted like chemicals.... The cantaloupes are going back to Giant and with luck, I'll be hauling something local back from my walk this evening.

Two cantaloupes from neighborhood Giant: $2

Seeing Anna Blume explain to the manager at Giant why she is returning the two cantaloupes, one of them with a missing wedge: priceless

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Two cantaloupes from neighborhood Giant: $2

Seeing Anna Blume explain to the manager at Giant why she is returning the two cantaloupes, one of them with a missing wedge: priceless

But she is walking there and back home, which is good exercise and doesn't increase the carbon footprint of those particular melons! A couple of weeks ago, I bought a Sharlyn melon at Balducci for $4. It turned out to be overripe--the flavor was amazing, but the texture was mushy and unpleasant. My immediate calculus was--get in the car, drive there and back, waste at least a half hour, hassle about parking, since they have a $10 minimum for free parking. Nah. I cut the flesh out of the rind, put it in my Vitamix blender and liquified it with a little bit of simple syrup I had left from cooking rhubarb. Then I poured it through a sieve to remove a bit of pulp into freezer containers, about an inch deep, and stuck it in the freezer. On one of those brutally hot days last week, I got a container out, chopped the frozen melon jus into chunks and threw it back into the Vitamix. Voila! Amazingly refreshing and delicious melon sorbet. Our houseguest got a little brainfreeze, but we all agreed it was the perfect healthy hot weather dessert.

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Two cantaloupes from neighborhood Giant: $2

Seeing Anna Blume explain to the manager at Giant why she is returning the two cantaloupes, one of them with a missing wedge: priceless

B)

I'll bet the manager doesn't even care, though, or whoever is working at customer service. People return just about anything these days. I almost felt bad one day going back to Giant to get my $4 for a broken vase. I had bought 2 different-sized vases and did not realize until I was home that the cashier had thrown them together into one of those flimsy plastic bags. The larger, more fragile-seeming vase escaped unscathed, but the smaller, more durable-seeming one cracked all the way down one side. I was expecting to have to make some kind of case to get my money back, but nope. Then I read (elsewhere) the comments of a customer service clerk (in a different part of the country) about the things people return, including an empty doughnut box... :angry:

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Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous and the market was bustling with all these cabin-feverish folk. I counted more than 800 at one point mid-morning and heard from one farmer after another just how busy it was.

At the very end, saw Heinz Thomet gathered with his hip, pretty young crew in the wake of their up-beat version of a Maoist Criticism/Self-Criticism session. He makes a point of only participating in one farmers' market a week and is very content with his decision, especially since he was fortunate enough to have witnessed the growth of the Dupont Circle market over the years. He's in the position to be quite smug about his carbon footprint as a result.

Still, the crowds yesterday made him wonder why so many more folk are shopping there than ever before. Insights welcome.

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Still, the crowds yesterday made him wonder why so many more folk are shopping there than ever before. Insights welcome.

It's no mystery. All of the popular food and lifestyle magazines have had a "local foods" focus over the past couple of years, and there have been many feature stories in all of the major newspapers, as well. Whenever an article about farmers' markets appears in the Post, Dupont Circle's is highlighted as the region's best market. It's part of a bigger picture that includes an explosion of farmers' markets all over the country. Slow food/locavorism is "hot": lots of stories in the media about the hugely attended Slow Food convention in San Francisco last weekend. Michael Pollan's recent books have been on the NYT best sellers list. High-end restaurants have been trumpeting their use of products from local farms for years now, and even some of the major local grocery chains--Giant and Whole Foods especially--have jumped on the bandwagon.

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He makes a point of only participating in one farmers' market a week and is very content with his decision, especially since he was fortunate enough to have witnessed the growth of the Dupont Circle market over the years. He's in the position to be quite smug about his carbon footprint as a result.
Yes, but isn't there value in making locally grown food available to more people? I for one would prefer to see more markets, and more choice, available to the most people.
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I'm one of those who is adding to the increas of customers at the market. (though i used to go to dupont every week until about 4 years ago) I've started going to the dupont market lately because the arlington market, which i used to go to, has become a bit of a zoo, and also because it opens and sells out of things much later than the arlington market.

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Yes, but isn't there value in making locally grown food available to more people? I for one would prefer to see more markets, and more choice, available to the most people.

There is a major trade-off for farmers regarding markets. For a small operation, a day at another market is a day not working on the farm, and more costs for gas and labor. I get the feeling that Heinz does much of the work himself, while someone like Mark Toigo can go to several markets because he does less planting than a vegetable farmer needs to do, and has hired people to pick his fruit and supervise the market sales.

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It's no mystery. All of the popular food and lifestyle magazines have had a "local foods" focus over the past couple of years, and there have been many feature stories in all of the major newspapers, as well. Whenever an article about farmers' markets appears in the Post, Dupont Circle's is highlighted as the region's best market. It's part of a bigger picture that includes an explosion of farmers' markets all over the country. Slow food/locavorism is "hot": lots of stories in the media about the hugely attended Slow Food convention in San Francisco last weekend. Michael Pollan's recent books have been on the NYT best sellers list. High-end restaurants have been trumpeting their use of products from local farms for years now, and even some of the major local grocery chains--Giant and Whole Foods especially--have jumped on the bandwagon.

The market in Burke has grown over the years and is now frequented by a large number of folks. I am sure has something to do with the items you mentioned.

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There is a major trade-off for farmers regarding markets. For a small operation, a day at another market is a day not working on the farm, and more costs for gas and labor. I get the feeling that Heinz does much of the work himself, while someone like Mark Toigo can go to several markets because he does less planting than a vegetable farmer needs to do, and has hired people to pick his fruit and supervise the market sales.
So, does that mean we should congratulate Heinz for being, what? More "pure?" I am happy that he can make a living overcharging me for my favas and lacinato kale ( :lol: ), but what about everyone who currently can't afford to buy local? How does limiting the availability of his goods promote local food for everyone?

The way he is doing business pretty much ensures that his products are only available/affordable for a small minority - an economic elite. I can't admire that.

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So, does that mean we should congratulate Heinz for being, what? More "pure?" I am happy that he can make a living overcharging me for my favas and lacinato kale ( :lol: ), but what about everyone who currently can't afford to buy local? How does limiting the availability of his goods promote local food for everyone?

The way he is doing business pretty much ensures that his products are only available/affordable for a small minority - an economic elite. I can't admire that.

What should he do? I don't see how offering his products at other markets is going to make things any cheaper.

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So, does that mean we should congratulate Heinz for being, what? More "pure?" I am happy that he can make a living overcharging me for my favas and lacinato kale ( :lol: ), but what about everyone who currently can't afford to buy local? How does limiting the availability of his goods promote local food for everyone?

The way he is doing business pretty much ensures that his products are only available/affordable for a small minority - an economic elite. I can't admire that.

Heinz's produce is just about the most expensive at the market, rivalled only by Tree and Leaf I think. But they are both "beyond organic" and there is a lot more labor and other costs involved in that kind of farming. For some people, buying ceritified organic produce is very important and they are willing to pay more for it. Organically grown is not my primary consideration--I tend to spread my purchases around the market--and I tend to look for things that fit my own quality/value calculation, which is fairly flexible. I think that Heinz's favas are too expensive, and so I don't buy those from him. I tend to buy favas at Asian markets, where they are $1.99 a pound. The pods, where any pesticide residue might reside, get discarded anyway. The basic economic model of the market isn't really to get cheap food to a lot of people. It's to enable farmers to market their products "retail," cut out the wholesalers and thereby make enough of a living that they can continue to farm. Small farms lack the economy of scale, cheap labor force and mechanization that enable huge corporate operations to produce cheap food. What you get is fresher, riper, more flavorful varieties, and a direct relationship with the people who grow the food. And they get the chance to make a living at what they do. I don't begrudge them that a bit. But I can't afford to buy everything I eat, at the Dupont Market.

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I am not necessarily looking for "cheap" food. My family is lucky enough to be able to afford to buy some of our food locally. What I would like to see is more people be able to afford it. I've been doing what I can for years, in the hope that eventually, prices might come down and more people would be able to buy local. It's not happening.

Purposely putting your product out of reach to 99.9% of consumers is...this is an imperfect analogy but it reminded me of bands who limit their popularity so as not to "sell out," and indie-rock snobs who stop listening to anyone who gets too popular (more accessible).

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Purposely putting your product out of reach to 99.9% of consumers is...this is an imperfect analogy but it reminded me of bands who limit their popularity so as not to "sell out," and indie-rock snobs who stop listening to anyone who gets too popular (more accessible).

Dupont sucks now that everybody knows about it. :lol:

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I am not necessarily looking for "cheap" food. My family is lucky enough to be able to afford to buy some of our food locally. What I would like to see is more people be able to afford it. I've been doing what I can for years, in the hope that eventually, prices might come down and more people would be able to buy local. It's not happening.

Purposely putting your product out of reach to 99.9% of consumers is...this is an imperfect analogy but it reminded me of bands who limit their popularity so as not to "sell out," and indie-rock snobs who stop listening to anyone who gets too popular (more accessible).

Dupont sucks now that everybody knows about it. :lol:

Just to bring another significant issue to this discussion--Heinz Thomet has been one of the few farmers at the Dupont Market who takes food stamps. So I don't think it is fair to accuse him of being greedy, or only interested in making as much money as possible. He was lucky/smart enough to get into the Dupont Market early on, and I'll bet they have a big waiting list of farms that would like to get into the Dupont Market for the very opportunity that it represents, with a customer base that is willing and able to pay top-dollar. If they want to do direct sales, however, the late-comers may need to set their sights a bit lower.

What we have heard from others is that prices are cheaper at farmers' markets outside of downtown DC, in Baltimore and the 'burbs, even those in Silver Spring and NE. Sometimes considerably cheaper. It is, IMO, part of the systemic reality that makes housing more expensive and median salaries higher in the area where the Dupont market is located. I think that what you will find is that the farmers' market phenomenon is growing to the extent that markets will begin to appear in lower-income parts of town, and that the farmers who go to those areas will have to charge less for their products than those at the Dupont Market do. Otherwise, they won't be able to sell their goods. They need to be able to make enough money to cover their transportation and labor costs, however. They can't "give it away" at less than cost to enable poor people to have local food, as laudable as that idea might be, unless they have another source of income to support their personal philanthropy. Or some entity arises to provide price supports to farmers, and pay the difference.

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I am not necessarily looking for "cheap" food. My family is lucky enough to be able to afford to buy some of our food locally. What I would like to see is more people be able to afford it. I've been doing what I can for years, in the hope that eventually, prices might come down and more people would be able to buy local. It's not happening.

Purposely putting your product out of reach to 99.9% of consumers is...this is an imperfect analogy but it reminded me of bands who limit their popularity so as not to "sell out," and indie-rock snobs who stop listening to anyone who gets too popular (more accessible).

Heather, the affordability factor is better at markets outside of Dupont where for instance, WIC and food stamps are accepted at some stalls, such as at the Fairfax County markets. At the FC markets, the average expenditure is less than at Dupont, the demographic is different, and many farmers still are happy enough with their incomes from market to stay.

Others are not. Quail Creek left the Kingstowne market last year because their numbers weren't as good as say, Penn Quarter. Blue Ridge Dairy just pulled out too.

The Anacostia Market, where arguably, a fresh market is most needed, closed because IIRC, the average patron spent in the area of 6 bucks.

I agree with Zora for all of her reasons to support vendors who charge a premium for their product. I spread my food dollars around a great deal and have run the gamut from buying lamb chops from Eco Friendly, to Costco.

I do feel that I am privileged to be able to spend premium bucks at times, just because I want to avail myself of the best, the freshest and support local. I also wrestle with the elitist bent that the movement has garnered in the media.

It's a conundrum wrapped in a quandary. Or not.

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Just to bring another significant issue to this discussion--Heinz Thomet has been one of the few farmers at the Dupont Market who takes food stamps.

Whoa. This seems a bit odd to me. I can't afford to shop at farmers' markets, but I am not eligible for food stamps. Government incentives at work, I suppose.

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Whoa. This seems a bit odd to me. I can't afford to shop at farmers' markets, but I am not eligible for food stamps. Government incentives at work, I suppose.

I was being a bit simplistic, in my post. Five vendors at the Dupont Market accept WIC vouchers--which apparently allow only $25 a YEAR to be spent on "local produce." Perhaps someone who is more knowledgeable about the guidelines of the WIC program can provide more details, but my understanding is that WIC provides vouchers for milk, eggs, orange juice and (?) cereal for poor women with young babies.

As far as what some very poor people have access to, as the result of government programs, compared to poor people who are ineligible for assistance--food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing are all programs that have been cut in recent years, despite the growing number of poor, uninsured, and the widening of the income gap between the very rich and everyone else.

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...the crowds [at market on Sept. 6] made [Heinz Thomet] wonder why so many more folk are shopping there than ever before. Insights welcome.
It was this line in my original post in the topic devoted to Dupont Circle that inspired Don (?) to create a new thread. I was hoping there might be some interesting observations that I could share with the farmer.

When you have more time to read something of greater length than most posts here, I offer a link to one historian's relevant perspective. Helen Tangires examines the cultural history of public markets: Overview of her research.

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Whoa. This seems a bit odd to me. I can't afford to shop at farmers' markets, but I am not eligible for food stamps. Government incentives at work, I suppose.

I shop at the Burke Farmers' Market fairly regularly, and AFAIK, all of the vendors selling eligible products there accept WIC food stamps. I think it is wonderful that families on limited incomes have a healthier option in addition to the offerings of supermarkets, and it may be possible that they can get more nutritionally for their food-stamp dollar. We have a real misperception in some circles both about the costs of food at farmers' markets (it's often possible to buy in bulk for freezing or canning at a real savings) and exactly who the people are who benefit from food stamps. I'm not saying that everything is economical at the farmers' markets, but careful shopping and a willingness to try unusual produce can reap benefits on an average budget. And, while there may be some abusers of the program, many of those using food stamps are single-parent families (think newly divorced mothers with young children, for example) or the working poor who have growing children to feed. Hooray for those who avail themselves of the healthier options from the farms!

That being said, many more people are gravitating from Giant and Safeway to Whole Foods, and from there to the farmers' markets. Some are seeking organic and "beyond organic" produce, or unusual fruits and vegetables not found in the stores. Or maybe they prefer the flavor of truly fresh produce. Some are worried about contamination from large-scale farming and wholesaling, and may be reassured by at least knowing the exact source of the vegetables and fruits they are eating. Some are worried about irradiation of fresh vegetables. And maybe some feel they are part of an "elite movement." I don't know. I do know that I prefer the taste of the produce from the farmers' markets, I enjoy being able to eat food more seasonally, and I feel safer about my food, and those are some of the reasons that I have chosen to purchase directly from farmers.

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At the risk of drifting into barroom theory (ideas and opinions based on few, if

any, facts), the farmer's market is a minor rebuke to the modern supermarket.

When frozen orange juice concentrate was introduced in 1946, and sold in the

supermarket, it was an amazing marvel. I wasn't there, but "people who know"

assure me this true.

When the supermarket started to sell those three rubber balls in a plastic container

and labeled them "tomatoes", I think we reached the nadir.

Now I go to the farmer's market looking for ... what? something more real, more

tasty? When I buy a juicy, tasty peach, I am happy. A tasteless plum ... what an inexperienced,

knowledge deficient shopper I am. It is just a different kind of shopping experience, with it's

own pitfalls and rewards.

When I bought asparagus at a farmer's market and thought " the stuff from the

supermarket was better", I kept that thought to myself.

Now, the farmer's market is a great new thing. Next year it will be something else.

And there will be more for me. :lol:

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I was being a bit simplistic, in my post. Five vendors at the Dupont Market accept WIC vouchers--which apparently allow only $25 a YEAR to be spent on "local produce." Perhaps someone who is more knowledgeable about the guidelines of the WIC program can provide more details, but my understanding is that WIC provides vouchers for milk, eggs, orange juice and (?) cereal for poor women with young babies.

As far as what some very poor people have access to, as the result of government programs, compared to poor people who are ineligible for assistance--food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing are all programs that have been cut in recent years, despite the growing number of poor, uninsured, and the widening of the income gap between the very rich and everyone else.

So as a former WIC dietitian, let me clarify. WIC is a supplemental nutrition program for pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants and children up to age 5, who have a maximum income of 185% of the PIR ( for a family of 4, $39,000/yr). WIC has a "Farmer's Market Program" that provides $25 per FAMILY to be spent in the summer months on locally grown food purchased in a farmer's market. This program is available only in states that chose to provide the extra funds needed to support the program. WIC has traditionally provided vouchers for infant formula, milk, eggs, cheese, beans or peanut butter, cereal and juice. The reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act in 2004 brought about many changes to the WIC food package and it now includes less of some items but fresh fruits and vegetables have been added. I believe in addtion to the Farmer's Market Program. Food stamps are a different program with a lower income threshold, 130% of the PIR ($28K for a family of 4). Food stamps provide a maximum benefit of about $1 per meal. The minimum benefit is about $10 per month/person.

It is a wonderful thing that WIC vouchers can be used at Farmer's Markets. They represent a huge splurge for many families and an opportunity for children to have foods their families would otherwise forgo. But in no way do either WIC vouchers or Food Stamps allow participants to shop extensively at the Dupont farmer's market.

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