There’s no better way to get to know D.C. in the summertime than by visiting its bounty of farmers markets, and summer is when they are truly in full bloom.
Dozens of markets pepper the region, from small and cozy neighborhood spots to sprawling spaces with more vendors than you can throw a locally grown squash blossom at. To distill the options in the district, we’ve done the dirty work for you, with five fabulous finds.
When the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times of London give a market kudos, there’s certainly a reason to check it out. One of the oldest and most famous farmers markets in the city, the Dupont Circle Farmers Market is also one of the largest, with more than 50 stands during the busy season (summertime; it operates all year long). Founded in the food-desert year of 1997, the market sits at 20th Street N.W. and Massachusetts Avenue, just by the north end of the Dupont Circle Metro stop. On sale? Both conventional and certified organic fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, as well as other fresh items. But like any good farmers market today, there’s also an enormous array of other prepared and packaged goods, from bread to jams to handmade dumplings. And liquor. And of course, this being Dupont Circle, there is plenty of eye candy in addition to the other food on sale.
In June, three major coalitions of farmers market organizations, including FRESHFARM, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture and Community Foodworks, launched Fresh Match, a dollar-for-dollar matching program for shoppers using federal nutrition benefits. Shoppers can now use any covered benefits. “The launch of the Fresh Match program significantly advances food access for vulnerable neighbors in our communities,” said FRESHFARM Executive Director Julia Feder.
Farmers markets tend to operate in the mornings (though there are a few notable exceptions weekday afternoons), so finding sustenance while shopping is critical. And as much as we love breakfast burritos, morning Mexican has been on the menu for a long time. Ready to take up the mantle? Breakfast rotis. Enter Short Eats, run by first-generation Sri Lankan children of a cook, who love to share their family’s food with the community. Focusing on street food, this shop’s most famous for the breakfast rotis. Stuffed with pork sausage, turkey or veggies, along with eggs and veggies, the good stuff is then wrapped in fluffy, hearty roti (a South Asian flatbread, usually not leavened) and grilled hot. They’re available only at the Columbia Heights and Petworth Community farmers markets.
Farmers markets aren’t only abuzz with good food, they’re also a place to get a buzz. Just as the region has uncorked small-batch alcohol production in the past few years, now they’re showing up at markets. What’s great about these local businesses as well is that they also source their ingredients from area farms. At several D.C. farmers markets, you can pick up beer from Right Proper Brewing and cider from Supreme Core Cider. On a larger scale, spirits are offered from One Eight Distilling, New Columbia Distillers, Don Ciccio & Figli, Republic Restoratives, Tenth Ward Distilling, and Twin Valley Distillers.
Farmers markets are like organic onions — layers upon layers. Farmers markets act as community centers, a space where consumer can create and develop direct relationships with farmers and producers, and can learn exactly where their food comes from. These markets bring in vendors and chefs for demos and educational sessions. Musicians enliven markets to make them multi-sensory experiences, bike shops give lessons in bicycle care, and, as noted above, markets are becoming increasingly more accessible and inclusive. Farmers markets have become more than a stand to buy heirloom tomatoes — these are spaces to celebrate, support and take part in a thriving local food system.