11 August 2008

Going local: Arlington Farmers' Market

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.


Wendi said...

Maybe I am little biased but my favorite farmer's market of all time is Downtown's SLC Farmers Market in Pioneer Park.

Everything your can imagine and more. Two Belgium fellows set up a Belgium waffle stand and I have never tasted such delicious in my life. I was a regular. I still dream about those waffles...

Cabeza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cabeza said...

To be perfectly honest myself, I don't think any market will top the Pike Place Market in Seattle in my book. It's so much more than a farmers' market with its multiple tiers overlooking the Puget Sound, its bookstores, comic book shops, artists, musicians, and of course, its airborne fish.

amanda said...

Thanks for the review! I look forward to the rest of them. Two questions, though: 1)How accessible are these markets by public transportation? 2)Is price something to take into consideration at farmer's markets? Does that vary market-to-market, or just vendor-to-vendor? I was curious about that. Of course, you could go the "delicious, locally grown produce has no price and so the matter is irrelevant" route, and I'd probably buy that.

Darren said...

This produce sounds sooo much better than the crap i've purchased at Safeway. Seriously, I'm done with that store. It's like buying poison...rotten poison.

Christina said...

Intriguing. Sadly, my exposure to Farmer's Markets is still abysmally limited. However, with the wealth of markets available in my area...I'm sure that can be easily rectified. Thanks for the reviews. I'll just wait till you're done and then reap the benefits. :)

Cabeza said...

Ooo. Good questions, Amanda. I'll be sure to address the Metro accessibility issue in future reviews. As for the Arlington Farmers' Market, it's conveniently located right next to the Courthouse Metro stop. Friendly to all, not just those who live in the Courthouse, Clarendon, and Roslyn areas.

As for price, that's a really good question. I haven't been paying too much attention to prices, just enough to note that it's definitely more expensive than your average supermarket fare. I really have been working under the state of mind that fresh produce is worth the cost, though it probably would be interesting and helpful to try and spot any kind of trends between markets and among sellers. I guess I'll need to start taking an economist with me who can create a market basket and extrapolate a Consumer Price Index... Warren? Fronk? Any takers?

Cabeza said...

That's what I'm here for.

Asian Keng said...

I just hit Old Town market last Saturday; be aware that they start packing up around 9-ish so get there early. Apparently the farmer's drive from West Virginia to start unloading their peaches by 5:30 am. FIVE THIRTY AM. Okay so maybe at 8 when we got there they were still busily unloading but still. It was gorgeous and the corn I bought was SO MUCH BETTER than the wilted shrivelly ears from Safeway the week before. Plus, the fresh breadstuff is the highlight of why I go. :)

Yay for local farmer's markets! And yes, Cabeza, I agree with you that my personal utopia would be a close proximity to Pike Place. Did I ever ask you about the gum wall?

Allison said...

This just in:

The Upper King Street Neighborhood Association and the City of Alexandria are proud to announce that a new Farmers' Market begins
Wednesday August 13, 2008. The market features locally grown produce, baked goods and dairy products as available. The market will run rain or shine */Wednesdays, August 13 through October 29 from 3 to 7 p.m. /*
It is located at the King Street Gardens Park (1806 King St.), just a few steps from the King Street Metro.

Cabeza said...

I'm excited for the Upper King Street one (see the list of markets at the beginning of the post) because of its Wednesday operating schedule. Sometimes the produce you buy at the market on Saturday doesn't last through the week!

I had no idea, though, that it was such a recent addition. Holy cow, tomorrow is the first day! I must go! Thanks, Allison!

Ruth said...

I agree about the new upper King Street market - how great to have a mid-week option! I hope to check it out tonight.

The Shark said...

Towns in Texas have a weekend each month dedicated to hosting a large farmers market-type event where you can buy, trade, and barter all sorts of goods and crafts. They usually are named "______ Days," with the blank filled in by the name of the city it's held in.

We used to love going to those things to hand out pass-along cards, and it was a lot of fun to see the various things for sell. A lot of elders would get themselves a set of longhorns from this elderly couple that made the rounds each weekend. They made a great wall mount.

Thanks for enduring my reminiscence. And I'm not sure I used that word correctly.

Darrell said...

This reminds me of Brazil. Each week on Saturday mornings, each neighborhood in the different parts of the cities would have a huge market. Everyone would show up, because many times this was the only way to get produce. (Some grocery stores would carry produce, but it was usually nasty and unedible after sitting in the heat of the store).
One of the few differenced I can see is that in Brazil, these open-air markets were significantly cheaper than the grocery store's.

Scott said...

Cabeza, where is your review of the other markets?