It has been spread abroad that white people love farmers' markets; I am no exception.
There are five farmers markets convenient to where I live in Alexandria: Arlington Farmers' Market, Del Ray Farmers' Market, Old Town Farmers' Market, Upper King Street Fresh Farmers' Market, and Eastern Market. It is my intention over the next three weeks to visit each of these in turn for the sake of comparison and contrast. If all goes as planned, I'll place a review of each of my market visits right here for your viewing pleasure.
I started this past Saturday with the Arlington Farmer's Market. Located next to the Arlington Courthouse, the market runs every Saturday from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, and it appears to be open year-round, which is a plus.*
The market itself covers a fair-sized lot. The official website for the market claims to have thirty producers involved, but I don't know if they're claiming that all of them are present each week. Whether they are or not, there is certainly a large selection present, with multiple vendors to choose from for fruits, vegetables, breads, honeys, meats, dairy products, and flowers.
The last two times I've visited, I found the vendors quite friendly. They're willing to make change for a twenty and make recommendations regarding their produce, and they all seem very appreciative of your business. There's also a spirit of friendly cooperation and neighborliness among them--this surprised me a little, since I walked into the market assuming that two stands selling fresh vegetables would consider themselves at odds with each other.
I stopped at one particular stand that had a sign promising delicious and unique cherry tomatoes, tried one, and felt compelled to buy a pint. I already had a few tomatoes in a half-flat box that I had purchased from a vendor across the way, and as I payed for the cherry tomatoes the man at the cash box looked closely at them.
"Those don't look like our tomatoes"
"No, I bought them from one of your competitors over there."
"Oh, they're not our competitors," he grinned warmly. "We're all just neighbors here." Nevertheless, he did lean in closer and whisper, "Ours are better!" Then he chuckled.
The spirit of camaraderie extends to some degree to the patrons of the market as well. Everyone seems to be kind and deferential to one another. There's a sense of community--maybe it's the common interest in sustainable, local agriculture; maybe it's the smell of fresh basil and flowers that hovers in the air between stalls.
I've been quite pleased with all of my purchases from the market--particularly the colossal blackberries from Westmoreland Berry Farm and a batch of peaches I picked up from another stand this week. Those cherry tomatoes were pretty dynamite too. I'm also excited to finish off my store-bought yogurt soon so I can dive into the fresh honey yogurt I purchased from the booth run by Blue Ridge Dairy. The small spoonful I tasted promised a true, cultured yogurt flavor with just enough honey to soften the bite.
The two drawbacks to the market are the fact that it's about a ten-minute drive to get there (small drawback), and parking is fairly limited considering the popularity of the market (larger drawback). If you're lucky you can find street parking, but most patrons have to use a lot adjacent to the market. Cars are constantly moving up and down the lanes of the lot, searching for an empty spot or someone who is leaving. Once you finally park, each spot is metered. Make sure you have change on hand.
Overall, though, I've really enjoyed my experiences at the Arlington Farmers' Market. I recommend it to anyone who has the means to go on a Saturday morning and the desire for fresh, local produce.
*Many fruits and vegetables won't be available during the winter months, but it's nice to know that a market is still open during that time, offering whatever is available.