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Farmers Market May Take Root Near the White House

By Jane Black and Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tomatoes from an open-air produce market on a lightly traveled street one block from the White House could grace the first family's dinner table this fall if Washington allows vendors to close a portion of Vermont Avenue NW once a week.

No one involved will give first lady Michelle Obama credit for the idea, but it's believed that she thinks it's a good one.

An assistant White House chef promoted the notion to a community group, and a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation said, "Her name isn't officially attached to it, but it's our understanding that the organizers are working with the White House or on behalf of the White House."

"However," said John Lisle of DDOT, "I can't confirm that the White House is involved."

The permit request for the market, filed by FreshFarm Markets, asks that Vermont Avenue be closed between Lafayette and McPherson squares, a short, diagonal block flanked by offices for the Export-Import Bank, the General Services Administration and the Veterans Administration.

That block of Vermont Avenue carries about 4,600 cars a day, Lisle said, compared with 20,000 a day on the blocks on the two streets (H and I) it intersects. The street would be closed for the market from 1 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays, from Sept. 17 to Oct. 29. H and I streets would remain open.

Michelle Obama's press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, wouldn't comment. Bernadine Prince, whose name is on the FreshFarms permit application, said, "We're not able to comment. I'm afraid that's not public. We'd like to comment, but not right now."

Ann Yonkers, who operates FreshFarms with Prince, said that the proposal is "a good thing" and that FreshFarms has been opening markets in the Washington region since 1997.

Before acting on the permit request, Lisle said, DDOT wants a letter of support for the market from the GSA, which would lose parking spaces during market hours.

Lisle said the agency is also awaiting approval from the Advisory Neighborhood Commission that represents that area of the city. Brian Vargas, an ANC member, said the group endorsed the proposal this month after hearing a presentation by Sam Kass, an assistant White House chef.

Vargas said Kass mentioned that the president and first lady have supported initiatives on nutrition and the virtues of locally grown food.

"Our commission felt since it's only for a couple of months . . . ," Vargas said. "If it does snarl up traffic, we'll learn from it."

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