West End Grows a Fresh Image

Camille Alcazar sells produce from the J& W Valleyview Farm stand at the new farmers market in the Cameron Station section of Alexandria.
Camille Alcazar sells produce from the J& W Valleyview Farm stand at the new farmers market in the Cameron Station section of Alexandria. (Photos By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
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By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Residents of Alexandria's West End have a new farmers market in Ben Brenman Park where they can browse stands brimming with bok choy, onions, cilantro, gorgonzola, brown eggs, cupcakes with raspberry buttercream frosting and other locally produced goods.

The market, which opened May 4 and is scheduled to run through the end of October for its first full season, is part of an effort by the city to create a sense of community in an area that has long been viewed as a lifeless, commuter "condo canyon."

On opening day, an unexpectedly large number of shoppers -- market managers estimate 500 people -- visited the market, which is set up in a parking lot at the end of Somerville Street. Artists and artisans also showed their wares, which managers said will be a regular market feature the first Sunday of every month.

"This farmers market was designed to bring attention to the West End and to spread things outside of the Old Town district. Alexandria does extend pretty far west, and we do have good parks out on that end of town," said Jack Browand of the Department of Parks and Recreation, which sponsors the market.

Browand said the market is part of the city's effort to transform the feel of the West End. "Even though it's a dense, heavily populated area, we want to create that ma-and-pa, small-town feel in a large metropolitan area," he said.

That is exactly what residents are looking for, said Ingrid Sanden, president of the Cameron Station Civic Association.

"Cameron Station is a suburban neighborhood, but it's a very urban and very vibrant community," she said. "We're always looking for experiences residents can walk to, as opposed to having to get in their cars and drive to. We're thrilled."

The West End farmers market joins the city-run Old Town farmers market in Market Square, which has sold fresh produce and goods on Saturdays for 250 years, and the independent farmers market in Del Ray, which has been a big draw for more than a decade. Browand said planners scheduled the West End market for Sundays so it would not compete with the others.

Some vendors are setting up stands on both days, market manager Julie Bryant said.

It was Bryant's idea to start the West End market. She was running a coffee shop, Cameron Perks, in the recently developed Cameron Station, a townhouse community on the former site of an Army base. "But nobody knew we were there."

Her friends suggested that a farmers market could draw people to the area and create the kind of buzz needed to sustain a business.

Bryant spent six months researching the idea. She ran it past civic groups and received their hearty support. Locals began e-mailing city officials, all of whom were enthusiastic.

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