A crocus may be the first sign of spring for some, but, for others, it’s the opening of local farmers’ markets. Vienna is graced with two of them.
Across the street from the historic Freeman House on Church Street, bordered by the bike trail, stands Vienna’s prominent caboose. It’s here in the “caboose lot” that the Vienna Saturday Farmers’ Market makes its home from early May through the autumn.
Shoppers of all ages, strollered-babies and leashed dogs, dawdled at vendors’ booths, chatting, browsing and comparison-shopping. It was a Norman Rockwell kind-of-experience.
Fragrant locally grown produce has been the mainstay of farmers’ markets, but organically produced meat and cheeses — antibiotic-free, hormone-free and free-range — are jumping into the vending pot.
THE FOOD VENDORS selling hot snacks had shoppers lined up. Student Courtney Vereide came for the doughnuts and crepes, while the breakfast sausage biscuits at Ole Pioneer’s Kitchen were going like, well, hotcakes.
Vendor Nsougan Sessou at Becky’s Pastries offered spirited descriptions of his assorted sweet and savory breads, identifying his Bun Bread as similar to Hawaiian sweetbread, and his vegetable cheese bread as very good for sandwiches.
“Everything is freshly-baked, family-made,” said Sessou. “This is why the food system needs from-scratch products, homemade foods. You know what the ingredients are and where they come from.”
Sessou’s labels list ingredients that shoppers use themselves, and that means no added wheat gluten or preservatives. His cinnamon apple bread sold out quickly, and shoppers were snapping up his Jalapeno Cheesebread and sweet “Bun” bread.
When his job was outsourced, urbanite William Jones decided to try something different. And raising forest-fed, all natural, free-range hogs is not only “different,” but also satisfying.
“Two years ago this July, I bought a piece of forestland. I gave the woods to the pigs and kept the cleared land for ourselves,” Johns says.
He raises the hogs and then brings them to a certified butcher for slaughter and packaging. The opening of Vienna’s Saturday market represented Jones’ initial foray into selling at farmers’ markets. Son, William, was at his father’s side, explaining the product and the process to shoppers.
Westmoreland Produce, coming back for its seventh season, featured early season vegetables and an expansive selection of herb plants and full-bloomed flowers. Chella Valencia detailed the virtues of her oregano and basil plants to a new customer, assuring him they were “good to grow.” In the summer months, Valencia will bring to market cantaloupes, watermelon, berries and popular vegetables.
“Since our move to the caboose parking lot, which occurred the first weekend of June 2006, the market has grown very rapidly and expanded into a wider variety of goods,” said Karyn Becker, manager of the Vienna Saturday Farmers’ Market. “Last year we added crepe and doughnut vendors, a nuts and chocolates vendor and a creamery. This year we’ve added vendors selling specialty jams and pork products.
“It’s early in the season so produce is limited, but the market is really going well.”
John Smith of Vienna summed up the appeal of the farmers’ market.
“It’s a local happening,” said Smith, “a place to meet friends and neighbors. The food is fresh and unique. This market is part of Vienna’s small-town atmosphere.”
NOTTOWAY PARK’S farmers’ market greeted the first of this season’s customers on May 2, its parking lot jammed by 9:30 a.m.
“I couldn’t wait until it opened,” said Michelle Howard, accompanied by her friends, all with babies in tow. “It’s close to the playground; we meet neighbors here. And my husband loves the fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Spring greens and asparagus were abundant, and homemade ice cream and kettle corn stands offered on the spot snacks. Strawberries stood out at Lois’s Homegrown Produce; Lois promises sweet corn, tomatoes, beans and potatoes freshly picked during the hotter months. Fields of Grace touted cheese made from milk that goes “straight from cow to cheese” and owner Chester Beahm himself checks each batch of milk for purity.
“My regulars are here,” said Kathy Reid, owner of Reid’s Orchard. “I’ve been selling here for five years now, and it’s nice to reconnect with people who believe in what you do.”
What Reid does is sell plants and herbs, plenty of herbs, of common and exotic varieties, suitable for cooking and for homemade tea brews. Reid’s lavender looked as if it had popped out of the English countryside.
“All my herbs are organically-grown,” said Reid. “I have lots of herbs for tea, such as lemon balm leaves and peppermint. My daughter turned to homemade peppermint tea to soothe an upset stomach.”
By early June, Reid will be bringing to market sugar snap peas and strawberries, and some of her 150 varieties of heirloom tomatoes debut in late July.
Valentine’s Country Meats features all-natural meats (beef, pork and lamb), multi-hued cage-free eggs and an assortment of home-style confections and pies baked by Valentine Miller’s wife and daughters. The meats and eggs are Valentine’s best-sellers.
“These light green eggs are said to be a bit lower in cholesterol than other eggs,” said Valentine Miller, a soft-spoken four-year veteran of Nottoway’s market. “I usually run out of eggs on market days. The meats sell very well, too.”
SHOPPERS INDICATED that news of tainted ingredients has influenced their purchasing habits, citing the importance of knowing where from one’s food supply comes, as well as showing support for local farmers.
“I’m fed up with the processed-food industry,” said Lilly Manning of Fairfax County.
“I shop at this market often. The prices are reasonable; quality warrants the pricing. I’m just so glad the market is open.”