Every bag of beans sold seemed to bulge with promise. Every head of cabbage or lettuce appeared a crisp symbol of accomplishment. And the Brookland Farmers Market, where all these and more changed hands yesterday, became a celebration of neighborhood gumption.
Three weeks ago, the parking lot of the D.C. Street Academy at 10th and Monroe streets NE was just a place to park cars. Yesterday, residents of this community near Catholic University transformed it into a combination open air market, street fair and lecture grounds for "economic democracy."
The festivities, according to organizer Noell Senerchia, were intended to demonstrate to the upper Northeast neighborhood that it doesn't have to give up because its local Safeway, the backbone of its shopping strip, has been removed.
And the market itself has been planned as a practical way of raising money and support for a permanent cooperative grocery store, owned and operated by neighborhood residents, to replace the Safeway that closed last January over loud local protests.
"Safeway moved out; we couldn't do anything about it," said Paul Himmelberg, 25, a member of the Brookland Community Cooperative Association. "Now we could have something that will be stable, something democratically controlled."
Tom Poth, who volunteered to be one of several festival clowns yesterday, said the Safeway closing was no laughing matter for the many elderly who live nearby. Poth, 30, said many of the elderly residents walked to the store for food, exercise and a chance to see friends.
"A lot of them don't have cars and they can't afford to take a bus or a cab every day, or even once a week," added Doris Melvin, a 34-year Brookland resident.
She said some were forced to shop monthly, cutting down social contact. But that is beginning to change, said spokesmen for the association, which plans to operate the farmers' market from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday this summer. The market will remain open, they said, until enough money has been raised to open a permanent cooperative store.
The new opportunity delighted Bea Wilkinson. The market, six food stands along a shady edge of the parking lot, had met her demand for fresh, affordable produce. "My cabbage was cut at 5 a.m.," she said, pausing to inspect her plastic sack of bluefish. "This was too good to pass up."
A piano teacher at St. Anthony's Elementary School, Wilkinson said she moved to Brookland 21 years ago so she and her husband could raise their children in a racially mixed environment.
"Brookland has been a good community . . . , and this," she said, scanning the scene, "is helping to make it better."