Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
First lady Michelle Obama talks to people in the crowd as she picks some fresh produce from a stall at the opening of a new farmers market near the White House on Thursday.
First lady Michelle Obama talks to people in the crowd as she picks some fresh produce from a stall at the opening of a new farmers market near the White House on Thursday. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
It's harvest season around the country, and for many people, that means weekend trips to the farmers market. A particularly high-profile market opened in Washington, D.C., this week. It's just two blocks from the White House. The first customer was the first lady.
Michelle Obama has been helping to get people excited about fresh fruits and vegetables ever since she planted a garden on the South Lawn of the White House. This week, she traded her shovel for a shopping basket, sampling produce from nearby farms in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Her goal is connecting city dwellers with local growers eager to feed them.
"We know that when we start coming out to those markets, we're going to start talking to each other," Obama said. "We're going to talk about, 'Where did you get those peaches?' and 'What's fresh?' We talk to each other in different ways. So this market is not just about food. It's about our community."
With Secret Service agents all around, there was none of the usual market jostling. Obama filled her basket with potatoes, peppers and Tuscan kale — also known as dinosaur kale, thanks to its scaly leaves. She passed up what were advertised as "beets even the president would love." But she grabbed a colorful assortment of heirloom tomatoes — red, white, black and orange.
"It's a lot of work to pick them. And it's a lot of work to mix them up," said Emily Cook of the Farm at Sunnyside in Virginia. "But it really gives us a product that nobody else has. We think it's worth it. People really love them."
Opening these markets is work, too. To shut down the street, organizers had to get permission from the District of Columbia, as well as various federal agencies with offices lining the block. But it wasn't a hard sell.
"As soon as we asked, they said, 'Hey, sounds like a great idea,'" said Bernie Prince of Fresh Farm Markets. "We hope this really does serve this community of federal workers down here — because it's a food desert otherwise."
And it's not every farmers market that gets a visit from the U.S. secretary of agriculture. Tom Vilsack showed up, and announced $4.5 million in grants to promote farmers markets nationwide.
But the best promotion may be the first lady's example. Constance Brooks followed close behind Obama, filling her own shopping bag with tomatoes that took her back to her childhood.
"Everyone where we were had a garden, and the sweetest tomatoes and corn," Brooks said. "I was very spoiled and hated it when I had to go to a grocery store to buy something that was brought over thousands of miles and didn't taste half as sweet as the stuff I had at home."
Brooks and her fellow shoppers will be spoiled again for a while. The new farmers market near the White House will be open once a week, now through the end of October.