Ode to Farmers’ Markets

By Jenn Burka

Markets where farmers sell the food they grow are not a new concept. Back before big agribusiness and international food trade, markets were the standard way of buying daily staples. The modern concept of farmers’ markets stemmed from both a renewed interest in fresh, local food and a desire to support small family farmers faced with the challenge of competing against farming tycoons.

The Gardena farmers’ market in Southern California, which opened in 1979, may have been the first modern day farmers’ market. Since then, the concept of farmers’ markets has taken off, and in the past fifteen years, the number of markets in the US has increased substantially:

I had the opportunity to speak with Mitch Berliner, co-founder of the Bethesda Central Farm Market. When I asked him if he thought that farmers’ markets might just be a fad, he was adamant: “A fad? No. Definitely not. Is good food a fad? The fact is that the main reason people come to the markets is because the food at the markets tastes better.” Mitch acknowledges that people “feel good” when they go to markets because they help local farmers and the local economy. Shopping at the farmers’ market can also reduce your carbon footprint. Markets also play a part in bonding residents of neighborhoods; both farmers and patrons are always happy to talk with you about their products and purchases. Yet, Mark emphasizes that it’s the quality of the food that really keeps people coming back. I have to agree. Since going to the market does not replace the grocery store trip entirely, it has to be worth it for me to go out of my way. The product that I get makes every trip a success.

Mitch Berliner believes it's the quality of food at the Markets that really keeps people coming back.

The Bethesda Central Farm Market is open Sundays year round from 9am to 1pm on Elm Street between Wisconsin and Woodmont Avenues. Mitch has
been involved in the restaurant industry for over forty years in distribution,
retail, and restaurants, and he decided to open the market two years ago
because he wanted to create a comprehensive market where there wasn’t one. The Bethesda market now has close to forty vendors that sell vegetables, cheese,
milk, meat, and baked goods. They have a fishmonger that sells fresh fish, and
they feature a Maryland winery each week in an effort to support all aspects of
the agricultural system. Mitch’s philosophy is that if you can drive to the market, you can sell at the market. That said, he makes sure to find the best in class for every type of vendor. The market also has a variety of special events and programs for children and families, and is dog friendly. In the next few weeks, there will be opportunities for children to press their own apple cider. For Halloween, children can trick or treat at the different stalls, and there is a dog costume contest. Recently, the market started featuring one artist each week that creates something food related. The artists chosen must hand make their work.

Farmers’ markets are often looking for volunteers and the Bethesda Central Farm market is no exception. If you’re interested in volunteering, you can e-mail Mitch at mitch@bethesdacentralfarmmarket.com. Opportunities include running the children’s programs or working the information tent. Alternatively you can go find him at the market – he’s usually the behind the counter selling sausages. You can’t miss him: he’s busy laughing with customers and cracking jokes. You also sign up to receive e-mails about what will be at the market each week; Mitch says that currently several thousand people are signed up for these eblasts. The Bethesda Central Farm Market is only one of the many fantastic markets in the DC region. September is an especially great time to go to the market because, as Berliner points out, “we are in a unique time of the year when we have a huge variety of in-season produce. The summer peaches are still here but we also are getting apples and the first squash.” The Washington Post provides a comprehensive list of listed markets in the District and in DC suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. With so many markets to choose from, it seems like it would be hard to avoid encountering one.

For recipe ideas, you can visit Freshfarm Market’s recipe page. Freshfarm Markets operates many of the farmers’ markets in the greater Chesapeake Bay area. If you have other great fall recipe ideas, let us know in the comments section. Look forward to a fall recipe posting in the coming weeks.

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