Healthy gets fresh in D.C.

With June well underway, the cash crops for the season are asparagus, artichokes, berries, tomatoes, strawberries, tomatoes and squash. All of the above and more can be found in fresh, ample quantity among the burgeoning farmers’ market scene in the D.C. area.

Ever since the nonprofit group Freshfarms Market opened their flagship market in Dupont Circle 13 years ago, metropolitan farmers’ markets have experienced a flourishing of popularity. With President Barack Obama planning to invest $5 million into the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program during 2011 and Top Chef D.C. airing this summer, Washington’s foodie reputation is ripening. Sample and savor at these D.C. markets:

White House Farmers’ Market

Thursdays, 3-7 p.m., 800 Block of Vermont Ave., N.W.

Right outside the McPherson Square metro stop, the White House Farmers’ Market lines both sides of Vermont Ave. with its varied and enticing vendors. Co-founder and director of Freshfarm Markets Ann Yonkers was onsite to discuss the benefits these markets have to the D.C. community. Walking past some of the stands such as Clear Spring Dairy, Gun Powder Bison, Sunny Side Farm and Orchard, she explained how the purpose of these markets is to “shorten the distance between farm and city” as well as the distance between customer and farmer.

“There are no labels here. If you have a question, you can just ask the grower,” she said, picking up a strawberry from the Toigo Orchard stand. “These are so ripe it’s like eating the essence of strawberry.”

While she ruminates, her curly-headed grandsons run about with fresh cherry juice dripping from their chins, perfect endorsements for the market fare.

Whereas most markets take two to three years to put down roots, the White House Market gained a quick foothold in popularity thanks to one of its founders: Michelle Obama. Concerned with ending childhood obesity, the first lady last year created a health initiative for school children called “Let’s Move!” to promote healthy eating habits through quality food. The White House market was put together with the same spirit of healthy eating and good living.

Even though the market has health in mind, good eating habits must be rewarded by minor indulgences. Dolcezza Gelato, based in Georgetown, more than obliges with their exotic, cooling flavors like Avocado Honey Orange and Olive Oil. Another treat for market patrons is the occasional sighting of frequent market attendee White House chef Sam Kass, who picks his produce for the first family on site.

Health & Human Services

Wednesdays, 2:30-6:30 p.m., 200 Independence Ave., S.W.

A fitting location for a farmers’ market, the HHS market is the most recent market that Freshfarms has to offer. Despite having had only two market days, HHS already has thriving foot traffic. Adding to the organic, granola vibe, some patrons even walked around barefoot. Cheesemonger Rick from Everona Dairy gave a sample tasting of his cheeses with the formality and pomp usually reserved for wine tastings.

The peerless cheeses more than deserved the attention. They have been decorated with awards from worldwide competitions.

A few stalls down, Souper Girl ladles out her smooth broths. The Awe Inspiring Asparagus Soup and the aptly named Farmers’ Market in a Bowl Soup have enough taste and warmth to comfort any work-worn wonk. Sara Polon, the Souper Girl, contributes a lot more than her soup to the market. She helps contribute to the community feel of the market by bartering some of her soup in exchange for the vegetable ingredients needed to make them.

In addition to meeting the needs of their customers, vendors are also familiar with the needs of their co-vendors. Trading, bartering, and commerce regularly occur between vendors, helping to contribute to the communal environment the markets try to foster.

With the Dupont Circle market, never is this sense of community and fellowship more fully realized. Occurring yearlong every Sunday, the Dupont market features such a variety of bakers, nurseries, pie stands, dairy stands, fruit stands, butchers and creameries that it exists as more of a village than a market.

Although fresh and affordable produce can be found at any of the markets, they each have their own distinct flavor, taking on the personality of the businesses and communities they service. Explore the variety, find your market and cultivate your inner locavore!