USDA Farmers Market showcases local farmers and vendors, providing fresh produce for DC in an educational and sustainable way
Living laboratory facilitates immersive and interactive experience for market goers
From farm to table, the USDA Farmers Market on the National Mall provides a venue for local vendors and farmers to sell to D.C. residents.
The market, which was introduced under the Farm Bill, has been around since 1995. According to Toiyanna Thompson, the market manager, the market had been shut down for the past two years due to the pandemic. This year, the market is not only celebrating its 25th anniversary, but also the reopening of the market since the coronavirus.
According to Thompson, the market strictly introduces vendors and farmers that source 75 percent of its ingredients locally within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This practice has led the market to be known as a “living laboratory” by those who oversee it.
Integral to this idea of the living laboratory is VegU, the USDA Farmers Market’s nutrition program. Nikki Vivekanandan, program head of VegU, explained how they “ teach market-goers how to grow, pick, prepare and store a variety of different produce depending on what is in season.”
Every week, the program holds a live demonstration and allows participants to taste the samples. According to Vivekanandan, many local farmers bring fresh produce that is not ready to cook yet: “with VegU [they’re] really hoping to bridge the barrier between purchasing produce and consuming produce.”
For Vivekanandan, her personal favorite part of being involved with VegU is sharing her love for cooking with D.C. residents and making cooking more accessible for them, as she understands that for a lot of people, cooking may be a daunting task.
Community is what grounds the market. Jonathan Hill, a vendor at the market who is also known as Chef JT, told The Eagle he believes that “the benefit [the market] brings to the community is that it allows members of the community to get shoulder to shoulder with some of the smaller businesses that are growing.”
Beyond giving local sustainable businesses a platform, Thompson shared that the market strives to create a family-friendly environment by having different performers play live music for visitors, having a kids tent called “Produce House,” which promotes environmental education, and providing a seating area in what is known as the people’s garden where market-goers can see produce growing and enjoy lunch.
The USDA Farmers Market is an immersive educational experience that facilitates community building, knowledge exchange and exposure to vendors, farmers and market-goers.