In Takoma Park, Sunday market is a landmark, if a weekly event can be a landmark. It’s where everyone goes to run into one another, catch up on the news of the week, and incidentally buy apples and peaches and strawberries, depending on the season – sort of like church, but vegetables and fruit replace the prayers.
Certainly the food is worthy of reverence. This market has the best selection of greens I’ve ever seen: collards, mustard, spinach, kale, bok choi, chard. There’s an entire town block dedicated to locally grown, mostly organic vegetables and herbs, sustainably raised bison, artisanal goat cheese, my favorite scones, big, fat empanadas, and eggs that go for $5 a dozen. Yes, some of it’s on the pricey side, but we are paying the farmers directly, talking to them about how this year’s crop of spinach has been and when we should all plant broccoli. It’s the sort of place where the farmers write memoirs (this Sunday, Forrest Pritchard from Smith Meadows Farm, will be signing his). And it’s where you’ll see your neighbors not only purchasing produce, but also pitching in behind the “counter,” working part-time as clerks for the farmers. I faithfully buy apples and peaches from Twin Springs FruitFarm, where my then-teenage son worked for several summers in a row, and the regulars there often ask for updates on his travels.
Plus, there’s live music: the teenage fiddle player (I remember her from my daughter’s gymnastics classes) and the Banjo Man, with his crowds of young children chiming in on Oh Susanna.
On Wednesdays – when many churches schedule evening mass – I can replenish the produce drawer at the Crossroads Market, where there is an entirely different congregation. For one thing, many of the patrons and vendors speak Spanish, so I get to trot out my rudimentary español: “dos pepinos, por favor, y un cantalupo pequeño.” In fact, with the smell of fresh pupusas sizzling on the griddle and the produce labels written in both Spanish and English, I can imagine that I am visiting some bustling town in Central America. The market has also gained a pioneering reputation for the first Fresh Checks program in the country: It allows families participating in federal food assistance programs like WIC and SNAP to use their benefits to purchase locally grown produce at discount prices.
I also love the African griot/musician, who shows up from time to time to play his ngoni, a sort of skinny guitar from Mali. Plus, there are Sno-Kones!
But no rhubarb. For that, there is a Saturday farm stand that just opened this year on Maple Avenue. Called MarVa Harvest, it’s located right in the middle of a corridor of high-rise apartment buildings, just a couple of white tents erected in a parking lot to shade tables of produce grown primarily on one local farm. This market has a mission, which its prices reflect: to provide lower cost, sustainably grown food to everyone, regardless of income.
The first time I visited, I saw the rhubarb I’d been looking for – it has such a short season, and I hadn’t seen it available anywhere else. The folks who run this market are polite enough to keep their thoughts to themselves, but I’m sure they were puzzled by my over-reaction when, halfway across the parking lot, I was already exclaiming, "Wow, rhubarb!" I was so excited to see it, I bought extra so I could freeze some for later. And I made one of the best strawberry rhubarb pies ever – my favorite, next to cherry. And mixed berry. And that lemon slice pie I want to try next.
Like farmers markets, pie has endless varieties. I love them all. Any day of the week.