This year, the farmers market I founded celebrated its 10th anniversary. The Forest Estates Community Association Farmers Market is really a small, independent farm stand in my Silver Spring, MD neighborhood, and is the only farmers market on Montgomery County park land.
The celebration was a big deal. Last year, we were poised to celebrate the 10th year with much hoopla, but the primary farmer that had supplied our market for the previous nine years was repeatedly rained out, her fields ruined from floods. This gave me a first-hand understanding of the risks farmers face every day, and increasingly with climate change. I also learned how carefully farmers plan what they plant, as when I went from farmer to farmer at different large farmers markets, asking if anyone could step in for the season, I was met with only no’s as they were already committed.
Then I learned of a new farmer who was just starting out and was farming organically. I got all the necessary permits and we launched in May this year. I was so determined to make the market work out for her that I initiated planned activities for each Saturday morning to increase attendance. Then she walked out on us mid-summer - when packing up after a hugely successful market, no less - saying she was overextended. That was another learning moment, with me having to accept that if she needed to focus on a more popular stand downtown vs. our small stand, it made economic sense for her. But I wished she could have given me a bit of notice.
I was, in a word, despondent. The market is such a big part of my life, and has become the cornerstone of many people’s Saturday mornings. It’s an important time to connect with fresh produce as well as new friends made while discussing recipes or politics and, of course, with the farmers when they were on-site.
I reached back to our former farmer who was now enjoying beautiful weather and had a bountiful crop. Miraculously, she was able to start again the very next Saturday.
The neighborhood went from incredulous to ecstatic. My inbox and mailbox were flooded with giddy messages of thanks from neighbors, many of whom also turned out for a real 10th year celebration a few weeks later when Councilmember Tom Hucker presented me with a formal recognition of thanks for coordinating the market on behalf of the County Council. I was in seventh heaven.
Over this past year, I’ve learned a lot – about farming risks and obstacles as well as how to host a variety of weekly events, ranging from bands playing to art shows. I’ve also learned how farmers markets are so much more than just a place to buy food; as with the roots of plants, they play many important roles.
Our neighbors could choose to go to Costco, Target or any other store nearby, but they come for the freshness, camaraderie and to support the farmer. Any effort to strengthen and expand farmers markets – including on other county park land – is a win-win situation for everyone.