Slowly, but surely, the new farmers market outside the Whole Foods grocery store in Fair Lakes is attracting a following. And last Sunday, people from near and far came to sample, peruse and buy.
"I LIKE IT because I found the things I needed to buy today, like tomatoes, eggplant, coffee and Boston lettuce," said Virginia Run's Kavitha Iyengar. "And the people are nice," added her husband, Murali. "I like the interaction with the vendors. It's an honest, hometown thing."
The market began in May and will possibly run until Halloween. It's each Sunday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and Dale Stirzel, Whole Foods' assistant store team leader, couldn't be happier.
"The response has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "People are eating produce the way it should taste — fresh, in season and at the peak of ripeness. The vendors aren't affiliated with Whole Foods and don't have to pay for their spaces or share their profits with us. But their products have to be either grown or produced on their farms."
Stirzel said Whole Foods supports local products and likes being "a place where the community meets. And even if they don't buy produce from us on Sundays, we're there for all their other needs."
Although only eight to 12 vendors are there now, Stirzel said the eventual goal is for the market to triple in size: "We enjoy sharing the wonderful food that's out there with everyone."
The market features a colorful array of fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade pasta and sauces, meats, breads, honey, yogurt, salsa, coffee, herbs and flowers. And the customers last Sunday appreciated it all.
The Iyengars liked being able to taste samples of different foods before purchasing them. And although they came to the market last week for the first time, they plan on being regulars.
"IT'S IMPORTANT to support people with smaller farms," said Kavitha. "The produce is so good, and I enjoy the social aspect — I love walking around and talking to people. And I love to cook and try new recipes."
Penderbrook's Cristina Sy says people are more aware of the benefits of organic produce now. "I have two children, and you read about the hazards of all the preservatives and toxins in food," she explained. "Organic food is more expensive, but costs less than what you'd spend for medicine later on."
Overall, said Sy, "I'd recommend this farmers market "because you know the quality is good. And I'd encourage people to explore and go to it."
Vendor Janine Dihel of Toigo Farms in Shippensburg, Pa. — which organized the market — sold regular and white peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, red and yellow peppers, melons and sweet corn. And come September, she'll also have 15 varieties of apples.
She said business was good because people want fresh, local produce. And, she added, "I think more and more people are turning to farmers markets because they're afraid of imported foods and too many herbicides and fungicides."
Ron and Judy Rhoades of Franklin Farm bought peaches Sunday during their fourth or fifth trip to the market. "We like the fresh stuff and it's close to home," said Judy.
"We found produce that's good, flavorful and fits in our budget," said Ron. "We've discovered the fresh lettuce is really great, as well as the tomatoes and peaches. And we'll probably pick up melons and blueberries, our next visit."
Renee Carisio, who comes all the way from Warrenton to shop at Whole Foods, purchased tall, peach-colored dahlias from the Wollam Gardens booth. "They have some of the most beautiful flowers I've seen, and fresh-cut ones last longer than supermarket flowers," she said. "And I like buying from the source and thinking globally and buying locally."
At Endless Summer Harvest of Purcellville, Kathleen Jorgensen sold hydroponic — grown in water — lettuce for the owner, her sister Mary Ellen Taylor. "Business is fabulous; we're very happy for a new market," said Jorgensen. "Customer support and Whole Foods support is wonderful, the people are so nice and we already have return customers."
ONE OF THEM is Chantilly's Theresa Holster. "I try to make it every Sunday," she said. "I come for the red oak, green oak and tropicana [varieties] of lettuce. I tried it and came back ever since."
Although it costs $4/head, Hoster doesn't mind. "It was such a difference from bag lettuce when I tasted it," she explained. "It's lighter and has more flavor." She, too, urges others to visit this farmers market — "especially, nowadays, with so many chemicals [used on many crops]. My husband and I are trying to eat healthier."
Jorgensen said their lettuce is grown without pesticides, year 'round, in their greenhouse. "We go to 14 farmers markets in the summertime," she said. "And the people here are some of the best — the premier vendors in the area."
Shaima Hanif and her daughter Sarah of Fair Lakes bought fair-trade coffee from Hondo Coffee Co. "I was looking for good coffee, and this is natural and looks good," said Shaima.
Hondo owns a coffee farm in Honduras, pays its farmers well and grows the beans organically. They're roasted in Manassas and sold in six different flavors of coffee, including vanilla bean. An 8-ounce bag is $6; a 16-ounce bag is $12.
Chef Eloy Carrera of Sterling sells Chef Eloy's Kickin' Salsa. "I've been making it since 1968, and I make the best salsa on the East Coast," he said. A retired executive chef and restaurateur, he makes mild, medium, extra-hot and mango salsas which cost $6 for a 16-ounce jar or two for $11.
"It's a family recipe and it's not cooked; it's all fresh," he said proudly. "I get all the produce from the Loudoun County Farmers Market."
Clifton's Barbara Janowicz bought some, plus yogurt and yellow and purple tomatoes. She planned to use the salsa on chicken or fish and called this market "wonderful" because much of the food is organic and the variety's good.
Fair Lakes' Dori Matthews came because "natural, organic products are healthier and you have to support your local farmers." And she described the yogurt, tomatoes and corn she bought as "fresh and delicious."
Caroline and Cesar Collantes of Centreville's Hawthorne Forest munched on kohlrabi, in the broccoli family. "There are unique things here you're not going to find everywhere, like fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh, maplewood-smoked mozzarella," said Cesar.
"And we always buy Grace's Pastries, like the fresh ginger cake," said Caroline. "There are no preservatives in it, so you really get the flavor." She called the market a "fun outing on a Sunday." And, added Cesar, "It's nice to support farmers good to the land and environmentally aware."
NANCY PRITCHARD, whose family runs SmithMeadows Meats, offers free-range beef, pork, veal, lamb and eggs, plus fresh, handmade pasta and sauces. Calling this market a great venue, she said, "It's nice to have contact with the customer and, by selling things retail, we get what our products are actually worth."
Although people are still learning this market exists, she said, "The loyal customers are amazing, and that's what keeps me coming back." Likewise, Alison Stephan of Blue Ridge Dairy Co. of Leesburg.
"My husband makes fresh and smoked mozzarella, feta, mascarpone cheese, butter and yogurt," said Stephan. "The yogurt's made fresh within a couple days of [customers] eating it. It's sweetened with honey, instead of sugar, and it has a wicked-good taste and texture."
Clara Nsenkyire, whose aunt owns Grace's Pastries in Herndon, sells sourdough, whole wheat, seven grain and rye breads, scones, apple turnovers and carrot, zucchini, banana and ginger cakes.
"It's homemade with unbleached, wheat flour and sweetened with applesauce instead of sugar," said Nsenkyire. "It's West African recipes with no preservatives, and the bread is dense and moist; the sourdough is also good for French toast."
"Their cheese bread and raisin breads are to die for," said customer Denise Lemay of Lake Braddock. "And I look forward to fall for their Chocolate Delight bundt cake."
Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms in Purcellville offers tomatoes, green beans, squash, herbs, basil, peppers, cucumbers, beets, Swiss chard, garlic and onions. She said business at the market is OK for the first year, but more customers are needed to attract even more vendors.
She's optimistic, though. "If it tastes good, people remember, and flavor is made of freshness and good farming practices," said Polishuk. "Almost everything I had today was picked yesterday. And people ask us how to eat and cook with it, so we teach them about both food and agriculture."