Market offers fresh produce, affordability
Market expects steady increase in customers
It is 4 p.m. on a Wednesday, and, despite a halting rain, nearly 30 people milled about the stalls of the Crossroads Farmers Market off New Hampshire Avenue last week, inspecting produce and chatting with market vendors.
"Oh, it was pouring when we first opened up at three," said Michele Levy, one of the market organizers, her eyes scanning the overcast sky. "Actually, there were even more people here then, in the rain, than there are now."
Whatever the market's draw, Levy and fellow market coordinator Michelle Dudleyreferred to affectionately as the "Micheles" (or "Michelles," depending) appear to have found a winning formula. Open in the Crossroads since 2007, the market has grown every year in both attendance and produce, according to Levy. Held each Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the market grew by two vendors this year and expects to see even more patrons due to the market's unique "fresh checks" program, which uses money gathered from fundraising to supplement the low-income initiatives already offered by state and federal food programs.
Residents who meet the low-income requirements for the Women, Infants and Children federal supplemental food and nutritional education programas well as other programs offering similar benefits to low-income seniorscan sign up to receive the additional $5 a week through the market's fresh-checks program, Levy said.
"We have eight vendors this year, including a new produce vendor and a new bakery, so things are really taking off," Levy said. "Last year, we distributed over $14,000 in fresh checks to 750 families, and we anticipate those numbers to significantly increase this year."
Takoma Park resident Andrés Guevara and his wife met Dudley at the local WIC center in 7676 New Hampshire Avenue, just steps away from the market, and learned about fresh checks. They visited the market for the first time Wednesday to pick up bags of apples and cherries along with fresh bread.
"We heard about it in the WIC center, so we decided to come around and check it out, and I like everything we've seen," he said of the fresh-checks program and the market. "We'll be back."
The Crossroads market also offers benefits to local farmers, including Josie Johnson and Shawn Connell, who just began a sustainable-farming initiative in New Windsor. Their stall, Truffula Seed Produce, debuted in the market for this first time when the market opened last week.
"We came down at the end of last year to check it out, and we liked what they were doing here; making local food accessible to lower-income people," Connell said while he and Johnson arranged their assortment of tomatoes, radishes and other vegetables behind the stall. "We love what we grow, but we need a place to set up, so this is great for us."
"We grew up in this area," Johnson added, explaining that she grew up in Rockville and Connell is originally from Wheaton. "It's nice to come back here and be participating in the community."
The market, which is run as a nonprofit through funds from the city of Takoma Park and a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Foundation, among other sources, has also reached out to local schools.
Andrea Hall-Bell, a manager for the Silver Spring Judith P. Hoyer Center working out of the Rolling Terrace Elementary School, attended the market with the school's parent community coordinator, Vilna Bonilla-Kenny, along with a handful of parents and students.
"About 60 percent of the population we serve [at Rolling Terrace] qualify for free or reduced meals according to school system and federal guidelines, so because of that, we're promoting healthy eating here at the market," said Hall-Bell, adding that students and parents are encouraged to attend the market each week to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, or even begin their own gardens.
Takoma Park resident Ingrid Zerne attended the market last week with her three children 7-year-old Pelle and 6-year-old twins Iris and Paris who are also students at Rolling Terrace. A long-time vegetarian, Zerne has had little trouble getting her kids to finish their vegetables, but she appreciated the convenience of the local market.
"I'm off on Wednesdays, so I decided to come out; I used to go to the Takoma Park Farmers Market on Sundays on Laurel Avenue, but now I work Sundays, so I come here," she said.