Mark Israel and Judith Lesser run Query Mill Farm and are founders and long time participants at the Potomac Farmers Market which is held every Thursday, 1-4:30 p.m. at 10301 River Road in the parking lot of the Potomac Presbyterian Church through October. Call 301- 590-2823. The questions were answered by Lesser.
Number of years farming:
Mark grew up in a family that both gardened and raised food, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has lived on his farm (in what is now North Potomac) since 1978. He bought the house and property in part because of the great garden space (previously he rented land from other farming friends, the Newcombs, in Virginia). After we married in 1988, I investigated opportunities to sell the great food we were growing (far more than we could ever use ourselves) and joined the Montgomery County Farmers Market Association. My first market was at the National Bureau of Standards (now closed), then we added the Rockville Farmers Market (we still sell there on Saturdays), the NIH market (also closed), and along with the Polands and the late Renee Spates, I founded the Potomac Farmers Market in 1990, at the invitation of the Potomac Presbyterian Church.
Mark Israel, Judith Lesser, Andrei Israel (age 30 — a volunteer on the farm), golden retriever Anastasia, who attends the markets as did her predecessor Sasha, and cat PB, now an elderly 19 years, who did his part to keep rodents and rabbits out of the garden.
Mark — B.A. Oberlin College, J.D Columbia University
Judith — B.A. Oberlin College, M.S.T. University of Chicago, M.S. J Northwestern University (In fact, we met at the Oberlin Alumni Club of Washington)
Mark — Assistant Director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (1963)
Judith — Denver Editor of TV Guide Magazine (1973)
Mark — Public Sector Legislative Consultant
Judith — free-lance writer
Mark is retired from his profession and works full-time as a farmer. I work on the farm in season and have an antiques business (Antiques from Home) in the winter months.
Pretty much farming, a seven-day-a-week commitment. Mark also has heated with wood since the early 1970s so wood gathering and processing are winter occupations.
Favorite Potomac restaurant: We recently enjoyed dinner at Normandie Farm, and love the décor.
How did you become involved in the Potomac Farmers Market?
We founded the market in 1990 and have sold there continuously. Along with the other growers in the Montgomery County Farmers Market Association (MCFMA) we are committed to bringing to market only food that is locally grown (in our case organically grown) so that the food is fresh, in season, and travels only short distances. Part of our business is educating customers as to what can be grown locally and when it is in season. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who looks at our stand — we don’t have tomatoes in June, or watermelons, corn, or peaches.
What do you sell?
We have fantastic salad greens, fresh garlic, peas, beets, new potatoes, and other crops that thrive in cooler conditions. We’ll have some heirloom tomatoes early this year — later in June — but in Maryland most years field-grown tomatoes don’t come in until July and August, and corn doesn’t come in until July. We also specialize in heirloom varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables and melons in order to offer really great tasting produce. Philosophically we are in line with the slow food movement, to eat locally and in season.
Describe the market:
The Potomac Farmers Market is small and always will be as it is held on Thursday afternoons. Most big farmers markets (if not all) are on the weekend, since most people don’t have the free time to shop during the week. But it works for those who do, and it works for growers who want to get fresh food out to the public several times during the week. Many of our customers used to grow vegetables for themselves and appreciate the high quality of our food. Some of our customers have moved away from Potomac (to Annapolis and Fort Washington) and still come back to shop with us whenever they can. The Potomac market is especially nice because of its location — on the grass under shade trees. Our food and ourselves stay a little cooler and away from the traffic on River Road. We’ve formed friendships with our customers, and we keep in touch with each other’s lives.
What were the last books you read?
Mark — "Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water" by Marc Reisner.
Judith — "A Thousand Acres" by Jane Smiley.
Favorite item: We like all our food, but our feature product is heirloom tomatoes. We also feature homemade jams (Judith’s).
What we offer that other places don’t (i.e farm stands):
We grow the food, harvest it and drive 10 minutes to bring it to the Potomac market. There is no fresher food available anywhere in the area. We’ve never set foot in a wholesale produce market and if we buy in fruit to sell we buy from a farm we know that practices Integrated Pest Management. The other members of the Potomac Farmers Market also grow or produce themselves what they offer for sale. That’s part of the agreement we sign with MCMFA.
Where we would like to travel:
England is our favorite destination, but we only travel in the winter.
Another successful market season (so much depends on the weather), for Mark a chance to go fishing this summer, and then a good rest.