For the most part, grocery stores in Southeast Washington sell lots of hard, cheap wine, keep laundry soap and diapers behind bulletproof glass and offer a rainbow of fried fruit pies, but no fruit.
But on Wednesdays, a small strip of land called Peace Park offers Anacostia residents something they'll never see in the dusty corner stores: baby zucchini as small as fingers, sweet blackberries the size of Ping-Pong balls, award-winning peaches, elephant-ear-size collards, sugar plums and heirloom tomatoes.
The Anacostia Farmers Market on 14th Street between U and V streets SE offers fresh produce in a part of the city where grocery stores with large selections are difficult to find, said Lynn Brantley, president and chief executive of the Capital Area Food Bank, which sponsors the market.
On Wednesday afternoons, the market is a collection of local, mostly organic farmers who sell the foods they grow. On Saturdays, the market mainly has merchants who buy produce from wholesalers and sell it to the community.
The Anacostia market, which opened in 1999, is one of about 20 farmers markets in the District. Each has its own raison d'etre, some of them wildly disparate. In some parts of the city, such as Anacostia and Brookland, farmers markets fill an unmet need.
"I live just five minutes from here, and it's great for me because there's nowhere else to go for fruits and vegetables like this in Brookland," said Carrie Smith, who wore a straw hat under the hot sun last week while strolling between the white tents near the Brookland Metro station.
Michael Taber, a Pennsylvania farmer who gave Smith a taste of his white nectarines, said business in the Brookland market picks up after 5, when commuters stop on their way home from work.
One of the most bustling markets is the weekend market in Adams Morgan, which has one of the most ethnically diverse crowds in the area. Similar markets in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant also offer organic and ethnic produce.
There are markets for the downtown office crowd to do midweek shopping, such as the ones at the U.S. departments of agriculture and transportation. And there are markets that are destinations in themselves, with entertainment and food, such as Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, where artisans outnumber farmers on weekends.
Markets organized by the FreshFarm organization blossom each week in such places as Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, H Street NE and Silver Spring. They offer organic vegetables, specialty cheeses and breads, online profiles of their farmers and weekly cooking demonstrations by local chefs, such as the six-foot-wide paella made by Jose Andres of Jaleo last week.
Despite such promotions, communicating the advantages of fresh produce and organic, locally grown food is sometimes difficult, Taber said.
"The real problem here is the way corporations have taken over food," said Taber, who said the younger people who browse urban farmers markets do so on the way to fast-food restaurants. "I used to sell greens in Anacostia, collards and kale. The older folks bought them and cooked greens. But none of the younger people want them; I don't know if they even know how to cook them."
Southeast community activist Sandra Seegars, who has been fighting for a supermarket in Ward 8 for years, said she is one of those people Taber is talking about.
"I don't do greens; too much work," Seegars said. "I've been to that Anacostia Farmers Market. They just don't have a lot of what I want."
Seegars said she buys most of her produce at the farmers market open Thursdays on Lot 6 at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
In Anacostia, Andrea Merritt, a volunteer with the Capital Area Food Bank who helps run the market, balanced her 2-year-old on her hip while explaining the use of food stamps and vouchers for the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to residents who browsed the produce.
She spends a lot of time explaining farming to children. Once, when she tried to persuade a young avowed vegetable-hater that even his peanut butter and jelly sandwich had its origins in the ground, she was amazed to hear him contradict her.
"Jellyfish. That's where he thought jelly came from," she said.