Farmers Market Fans Welcome Back Vendors

Farmers Market Fans Welcome Back Vendors

Caroline Ross, Riverbend Bistro chef, sniffed the herbs.

Caroline Ross, Riverbend Bistro chef, sniffed the herbs.

David Erickson was crooning a mellow “Shadow of Your Smile” into his microphone at the Mount Vernon Farmers Market’s April 17 opening day amid smiles of satisfaction all around.

Jill Bernier, one of the three market managers, said she had “been counting the days,” to the opening, adding, “It’s fun to be outside and to support local farmers.”

Geraniums, petunias, tomato plants, sweet potatoes, asparagus, basil, breads, macaroons, mushrooms, honey, eggs, crab cakes, ice cream, pickles, pho and more practically jumped off the 23 vendors’ tables.

There were many happy reunions, lots of catching up to do since the last 2023 market in December. 

What did the vendors do all winter? Valentine Miller from Orange, Virginia, was busy feeding his 450 cows and 500 sheep. Wayne Pierson who lives in Warsaw, Virginia, did a lot of hunting and cut firewood for his greenhouses. “I don’t just sleep,” he chuckled. Grace Banahene from Herndon took her delicious baked goods to other Northern Virginia markets and took a trip to Ghana. Darlene Pierson drove 30 hours to Halifax, Nova Scotia to see her grandchildren. 

The Miller family brings breads, granola, cookies, fruit pies and whoopie pies every week from Valentine’s Bakery and Meats on their farm near Orange, Virginia. They often run out of eggs from their grass-fed chickens. Their big white coolers are packed with chicken breasts, pork chops, country-cured hams, smoked and cured bacon, spareribs, sausages, dog bones and even chicken feet.

Pierson and Gil Balderson have made their two-hour drive to the Mount Vernon market since 2006 to sell flowers and vegetables like carrots, onions, kale and asparagus. Next to the basil and rosemary, stood a few patchouli plants. They were stumped to explain what one does with patchouli, but Caroline Ross, chef at River Bend Bistro in the Hollin Hall Shopping Center, came to their rescue. “You make a smelly oil that hippies wear,” she commented, to everyone’s amusement. Ross shops at the market every week because she said, “the produce is fresh and reliable” and she builds relationships with the vendors.

A “mini-dairyland,” Misty Meadows Farm Creamery was a hotspot for milk, ice cream, yogurt and six flavors of cheese curds, including Old Bay. Betsy Herbst, who’s come to the market from Smithsburg, Maryland, for 13 years, raises Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss cows, milked by two robots. “Our milk is pasteurized, not homogenized, so lactose intolerant people can drink it,” she explained, then quipping, “Our products are true from cow to cone.” 

Banahene, a 27-year market veteran, is a popular vendor because of her chicken and beef pies, cherry strudel, apple turnovers and chocolate croissants, among other baked goods.

Matt Gitlin offered naturally-fermented (no yeast) whole grain, sourdough breads at Brutto Breads, breads that are “good for the gut,” he maintained. “Brutto means ugly breads in Italian,” he explained, but his loaves were far from ugly. Using Virginia-milled flour, he makes breads “like breads used to be.”

Mushrooms – shiitakes, creminis, maitakes, oysters, portobellos – were almost falling off the table at King Mushrooms. David King rises at 4 a.m. to travel from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He started raising mushrooms eight years ago to earn extra money while in college and now does it full-time. “The long drive is worth it,” he said.

Jon Littere, of Future Acres Urban Farming in Burke, collected food scraps to make compost for gardening and regenerative agriculture, practices that avoid chemicals. “Healthy soil is a necessity for healthy crops which grow green, resist insects and outgrow the weeds,” says their website. 

Karen Arnest and Darlene Pierson had a steady stream of customers who snatched up crab cakes, rockfish, catfish, flounder, oysters and scallops fresh from the Chesapeake Bay. Based in Hague, Virginia, over two hours away, Arnest Seafoods is a family business. “Daddy, age 84, still oysters,” Karen stressed.

“I love the people here,” she summarized.

More Information

Fairfax County’s 10 Farmers Markets, including vendors, schedule and more