“It’s pretty expensive to participate in Dupont, but in terms of the amount of money you can make and the amount of coffee you can move, it would be pretty remarkable to sell there,” said Finkelstein, 40, who sells his beans at less picky farmers markets in Petworth and at American University.
David Starr, co-owner of Beanetics Coffee Roasters in Annandale, has run into the same problem in Fairfax County. Starr sells his beans at the Falls Church city farmers market, but would love to get into the 11 markets operated by Fairfax County, where he’s been rejected.
The county, which operates markets from Annandale to Herndon, bars anything grown or raised beyond a 125-mile radius to support area farmers, said farmers market coordinator Mae Carroll.
As dozens of area farmers markets gear up for their busy spring and summer seasons, their managers face an increasingly contentious conundrum: Are they purists devoted to local farmers? Or are they free-wheeling capitalists who don’t mind a few vendors hawking New Jersey kosher dill pickles or Dominican Republic chocolates mixed in with local farmers offering dry-aged, pasture-fed bison that is, by the way, low in fat and cholesterol?
Who gets admitted and rejected also raises a more philosophical question hovering over farmers markets: Is a “local” product something grown and raised within a certain geographic area? Or can “local” mean something more expansive — a raw product from elsewhere transformed here in a significant way?
Over the past five years, “this idea of what constitutes a farmers market has been something that has really come to the fore,” said Stacy Miller, executive director of the national Farmers Market Coalition, a Charlottesville nonprofit representing many of the 7,000-plus markets nationwide.
“In some cases, nonprofits are asking on our list-serv about selling t-shirts, or maybe the market itself wants to sell bottled water that wasn’t bottled locally,” Miller said. “We had one question about whether a market should allow in a franchise.”
Keith and Lynn Voight, founders of All Things Olive, which sells California extra virgin olive oil in Maryland, have twice been rejected by the region’s Vatican of farmers markets: FreshFarm Markets, which oversees markets in Crystal City, Silver Spring and the Penn Quarter, along with Dupont Circle and others. The Voights, who import their oil and sell it locally, have also been turned down by a market in McLean.