New farmers market prepares for trial launch in Cleveland Park, to mixed reactions

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Farmers markets, including this one in Dupont Circle, have been highly popular in many D.C. neighborhoods. (Susann Shin/The Current/March 2017)

A new farmers market is poised to appear next month on Connecticut Avenue NW in Cleveland Park for a half-year trial on Saturday mornings, as a broader debate stirs about a possible oversaturation of farmers markets in not only that area but the city at large.

Earlier this year, the Cleveland Park Citizens Association and the Cleveland Park Business Association revived an effort from 2013 to add a new farmers market in the neighborhood’s center. The previous proposal had fizzled after management of the brick-and-mortar Brookville Market at 3427 Connecticut Ave. NW warned Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C (Cleveland Park, Woodley Park, Massachusetts Avenue Heights) that a new market would cut into its business and that of other nearby shops.

This time, a prospective farmers market earned support from 90 percent of respondents to a citizens association survey in February that included 522 Cleveland Park residents and 253 others nearby. Planners say they’ve been in frequent contact with local businesses including supermarkets and independently owned shops, and they plan to monitor sales at both the farmers market and the local stores during the trial period.

But their efforts haven’t calmed all the dissidents. Several nearby market operators told The Current that they’re not looking forward to yet another increase in competition, and broader concerns remain among some neighbors that the number of farmers markets in the District is unsustainable after explosive recent growth.

Assuming the Cleveland Park groups secure the permit they’ve applied for, the new 10-vendor market would be open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays on the sidewalk from Newark Street to the U.S. Post Office at 3430 Connecticut Ave. NW. Initially, the market will be small; by contrast, the weekly Palisades Farmers Market regularly has over 100 vendors.

Citizens association member Susie Taylor said her group and the business association returned to the possibility of adding a market after receiving a stream of emails from neighbors who want access to fresh food within easy walking distance from their homes. She and fellow member Jennifer Ward have been working with the business association’s Pierre Abushacra, owner of Firehook Bakery, to bring the market to fruition, in part as a way to boost attention to the Connecticut Avenue shopping district.

“If you go to Dupont Circle, that’s a hike; if you go to Van Ness, that’s not quite as much of a hike, but it’s a hike,” Taylor said. “And for the [nearby local] businesses, they’re really trying to draw attention to their existence so that people will be more conscientious about shopping locally.”

Owner Mike Shirazi of Brookville, which criticized the previous market proposal, wasn’t available for comment. But two others who run small farmers markets in the area — Twin Springs Fruit Farm owner Aubrey King, who operates at Maret School on Cathedral Avenue NW, and New Morning Farm owner Jim Crawford, who has a Saturday setup at Sheridan School on 36th Street NW — said they’ve already seen sales take a hit with more markets.

When King first arrived in D.C. more than four decades ago with plans to operate a farmers market, he was nearly the only game in town. Now the city boasts more than 120 farmers markets, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture directory. Though the city’s population is growing and interest in fresh foods has spiked over the years, market owners like King see the downsides of these trends.

“It sort of may be maxing out what is mutually beneficial for farmers and customers,” said King, whose Maret market is less than a mile from the proposed Connecticut Avenue location. “We’re a little nervous about anything like that opening up anywhere near us, but we’re certainly willing to compete.”

Crawford, another D.C. farmers market pioneer, has similar concerns. His market’s sales have been steady, but they haven’t increased in several years, and he now discourages other farmers he knows from entering the D.C. market scene. He thinks the potential new market will struggle to stand out in a crowded field.

“It takes a long time for people to try something and keep at it, like we did 40 years ago,” Crawford said. “We weren’t instant successes, and it took us a long time to get where we are now.”

Both owners are looking to adapt as competition increases. King said he has considered adding a delivery service and an option for online purchases for pickup at his market. Crawford has begun putting up fliers and seeking advertising opportunities after decades of relying on word-of-mouth.

“We are not resting on our laurels and saying we’re just hunky-dory,” Crawford said.
Some markets see the current landscape differently. FreshFarm — which operates eight markets in the city, including the popular Dupont Circle market near the Metro station on Sundays — hasn’t seen evidence of oversaturation, according to the company’s chief of staff Maddy Beckwith.

“Market openings and market sales, while perhaps not jumping at the levels that they did from 2006 to 2010, are still on an upward trajectory. People are spending more dollars in markets,” Beckwith said. “I would assume that a saturation would show that markets start to scale down. At the moment we haven’t necessarily seen evidence of that.”

Beckwith, a native New Yorker, was surprised upon coming to D.C. that many residents consider walking a few blocks to be a commute; she walked 20 to 40 blocks in the Big Apple without hesitating, but residents here seem to prefer shorter travel, she said. As a result, farmers markets in close proximity can co-exist here more easily than in other places, she suggested.

Another option to ease competition is weekday operation. The Rose Park Farmers Market is launching for its 12th consecutive season on Wednesday from 3 to 7 p.m. at 26th and O streets NW in Georgetown. Friends of Rose Park president David Abrams told The Current that the park’s market has largely been immune to any impacts of oversaturation.

As for the Cleveland Park market, organizers expect to present details at the May 15 meeting of ANC 3C. But unlike the project’s prior visit, chair Nancy MacWood said she doesn’t see much reason to object at this point.

“I think it’s a good thing,” MacWood said. “I think this approach will give everyone some time and some information to evaluate whether it’s something the community really wants.”