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SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's harvest season around the country. For many people, that means weekend trips to a farmers market. An especially high-profile market opened in Washington, D.C. this week. It's just two blocks from the White House, and the first customer was the first lady.

NPR's Scott Horsley was there.

SCOTT HORSLEY: In the concrete jungle of downtown Washington, you can now find corn fresh from the field, along with sweet potatoes, goat cheese, even bison burgers. But it wasn't necessarily a food fetish that drew all these federal workers out of their offices on a rainy weekday afternoon.

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA (First Lady): I have to say I have never seen so many people so excited about fruits and vegetables.

HORSLEY: Michelle Obama has been helping get people excited about fruits and vegetables and all sorts of fresh food ever since she planted a White House garden. 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.

Ms. OBAMA: We know that when we start coming out to these markets, we're going to start talking to each other. We're going to talk about, where'd 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.

Unidentified Man: About 95 cents. Would you like a bag?

(Soundbite of whistling)

HORSLEY: With Secret Service agents all around, there was none of the usual market jostling. Mrs. 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, packed by Emily Cook.

Ms. EMILY COOK: There's a lot of work to pick them and then it's a lot of work to mix them up. But it really, it gives us a product that nobody else has. We think it's worth it. People really love them.

HORSLEY: Opening these markets has worked too. Organizer Bernie Prince had to get permission from the city to shut down the street and from various federal agencies. Luckily, Prince says, it wasn't a hard sell.

Ms. BERNIE PRINCE (Organizer): And as soon as we asked, they said, hey, sounds like a great idea. And all these employees who went out in the street were in their offices looking down over to see the first lady speaking. So it felt great. And we hoped that it really does serve this community of federal workers down here 'cause, you know, it's a food desert otherwise.

HORSLEY: 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 worth of grants to promote farmers markets like this one nationwide.

The best promotion though may be the first lady's example. Constance Brooks followed close behind Mrs. Obama, filling her own shopping bag with tomatoes that take her back to her childhood.

Ms. CONSTANCE BROOKS: Everyone where we were had a garden, and the sweetest tomatoes and corn. And I was very spoiled and hated 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 things I had at home.

HORSLEY: 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.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

SIMON: And for a sampling of farmers market offerings from across America -from fiddlehead ferns to blackberries - you can explore our farm fresh food series at NPR.org, where you can find - do they actually cook fiddleheads? I'm looking in the control room. Yes, okay. You can find recipes, tips and more.

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