The Washington Post earlier this year reported that coffee roasters are “bitter” that they aren’t allowed to sell their foreign-grown coffee beans at farmers markets in the area that are managed by FreshFarm Markets. The organization, which runs 11 highly successful markets in the Washington D.C. area (including two I’ve visited, in Annapolis and at Dupont Circle in the city), has admirably strict rules about who can sell at the markets: namely, only real farmers who have grown what they are selling within a 200-mile radius of the market.
Strictly enforced rules like that are exactly what separate the best farmers markets, such as those run by FreshFarm Markets, from pseudo-farmers markets, where unwitting consumers pay premium prices for the same stuff they could buy at their local supermarket, thinking it was actually grown nearby and picked a short time earlier by those who are selling it.
The Post’s reporter apparently doesn’t get the distinction, dismissively referring to FreshFarm Markets as “picky” and “purist.” The excluded coffee vendors don’t get it either. What part of the word “farmers” in “farmers markets” don’t they understand?
Most befuddling of all, the manager of another so-called farmers market in the Washington area also, apparently, doesn’t get it. Mitch Berliner, co-founder of the Bethesda Central Farm Market, referring to FreshFarm Markets’ strict rules about what can be sold at their markets, tells the reporter that his market doesn’t “get into that silliness.” He is proud to say that at his market, he lets a coffee roaster sell coffee beans grown who knows how many thousands of miles away, a fishmonger sell shrimp from the Carolinas and another vendor sell olive oil from California. Well then why not tomatoes from Mexico and grapes from Chile? Perhaps that’s what shoppers at his market, drawn by the promise of buying fresh-picked produce from actual local farmers, should wonder.