In the Washington City Paper’s first “Best of” survey since 1987, readers apparently chose the weekend Farmers’ Line at Eastern Market as the city’s best Farmers’ Market. Maybe it was a sentimental choice – a desire to show support for the community in the wake of last year’s fire – but my trip to the market this morning left me wondering: Why walk the Line?
Simply put, today’s Farmers’ Line was a shell of its former self. There were only two vendors selling produce and a single florist, though there were still plenty of folks offering art, homemade jewelry, and other handicrafts. I started at the southern corner of the old South Hall, where one of my favorite farmers used to sell a wide range of fresh produce. His traditional location now stands behind construction fencing; needless to say, he was nowhere to be seen. Heading north up Seventh Street (which has been ‘temporarily’ closed off to traffic on weekends since last April’s fire), I was pleased to see a long-time vendor whose produce is primarily local, though corn and other items whose seasons have not yet come were readily available.
After passing the first ‘farmer’ on the line, I saw someone selling old 45 rpm records and another woman offering a selection of glassware near the closed-off entrance to the South Hall. I had to walk halfway up the block before I came to the only other vendor selling produce – though this one occupied as much space as any three other sellers on the line. They had apples, peaches, cucumbers and tomatoes by the pound, as well as asparagus, onions, okra, potatoes and other items in quart containers, 2 for $5. But their selection and their prices made me wonder just how local they could be – asking, I learned that most of their produce was shipped up from further south and only the asparagus had come from Virginia.
I bought some veggies (the price was right), but I didn’t come away feeling like I had done anything to support local agriculture through my visit. Instead, I felt as though I had somehow missed something…Where were all the local producers one would expect at the city’s best Farmers’ Market? Where were all the farmers, period?
I know that some of the farmers who have previously sold at the Market (like Toigo Orchards, who sell at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market on Sundays) have opted to go elsewhere since the fire, the road closure and the construction have had an ongoing negative impact on their sales. And maybe some of the other regulars weren’t there because of the heat or last night’s storms. I’m going to give Eastern Market another try next weekend, in the hope that I caught them on a (really) bad day.
But it’s hard to made a case for walking the Line if today’s selection is any indication of what they have to offer these days…