By Margaret Townsend
Alexandria, VA – The first week of August is Farmers Market Week in Virginia, welcoming National Farmers Month in August.
Farmers Markets have provided access to fresh, healthy food for hundreds of years, helping farmers preserve farmland and support rural livelihoods. The markets introduce shoppers to fruits and vegetables fresh out of the field, off the tree, or out of the earth. The City of Alexandria is fortunate to have five weekly Farmers Markets: two on Saturday, two on Sunday, and the mid-week market on Thursday at Montgomery Park in Old Town North.
The Thursday Market is the newest of the five markets, but the neighborhood of Old Town North has roots in an agrarian past. In the late 1700s, Belle View Plantation provided fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers to the residents of Georgetown.
Today, the farmers and vendors at our local markets sell their wares to our neighbors and many of our local restaurants. Biggs Family Produce supplies the Royal Restaurant and Café, as General Manager Louis Matsikas has “embraced the farm-to-table movement.” Stephen Hardy, chef and owner of Grateful Kitchen at 727 N Henry St., buys microgreens and mushrooms from farmers at the Saturday Farmers Market at Market Square. David Argento of Papa’s Market supplies many other restaurants in the area, as well.
Is coffee produce? But of course! TAL Single Origin Coffee is grown in El Salvador on a small family farm, roasted by Qualia Coffee Roasters in D.C., and sold by a family member at the Old Town North Thursday Market. The family also sells the coffee to Gregg Linzey, owner of Chewish Deli, on Pendleton Street. Gregg offers coffee by the cup. “This has proven so popular,” says Gregg, “that we now stock 12-ounce bags for sale here.”
Small farmers and local vendors are skilled in using their resources wisely and protecting the environment that provides their livelihood. The Old Town North Community Partnership, the Old Town North Farmers Market sponsor, encourages sustainable farming practices. The TAL family practices sustainability in selling honey from the hives on their farm and teas from the flowers of their coffee plants, letting nothing go to waste.
Zac Culbertson, owner of Cold Country Salmon, is equally creative in letting nothing go to waste. “I discovered that dried salmon makes a great healthy dog treat, and it is very popular with our four-legged friends,” says Zac, a vendor at the dog-friendly Old Town North market.
Farmers markets provide the opportunity for fellowship among farmers, local businesses, and artisans and craftspeople. Also featured at the Old Town North market is Ana Garcia of Ana’s Twist, who specializes in Ecuadorian cuisine; Alexandria folk artist Patricia Palermino; Ellen Hamilton, who sells handcrafted prints, bags, clothing, and vinyl at the Yellow Dot Shop booth; and Jenna of local shop Passionately Pets, to accommodate all your pet-based needs.