On a windy January morning at Washington Boulevard and North McKinley Road in Arlington’s Westover neighborhood, a steady stream of farmers market customers lines up for red velvet doughnuts, local apples, New Zealand meat pies and fresh-baked bread.
A torrential downpour the night before that lasted until 7 that morning hasn’t deterred either vendors or customers from turning out: At the Westover Farmers Market, which is open through the winter, a little rough weather is no reason to stay home.
“We like fresh eggs,” said Nate Neckel of Dominion Hills, who often strolls to the market with wife Alexa and their sons, ages 3 and 5, in tow. “Most of time the cooler keeps them at a brisk 50 degrees. Now when we go [in winter], the cooler keeps the eggs at a toasty 50 degrees.”
“Our kids get really excited to eat the apples they picked out, and the applesauce that the farmer made,” Alexa Neckel said. “When the weather is nice, and even when it’s not, our kids love to play at the playground after eating some samples of fruit and a few doughnuts.”
Westover has operated as a year-round farmers market since its inception three years ago. Its winter hours are a bit later than in summer — 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., rather than 8 a.m. to noon — and its approximately two-dozen winter vendors make it about half the size of its summer counterpart. Primarily staffed and run by volunteers, Westover was started by a group of neighbors who wanted a local, producer-only farmers market.
“We all live within a half-mile of the market,” said Josh Kaplowitz, a member of the market’s board.
The board meets six times a year, deciding on vendors who fit the tone and meet the standards of the market (producers who grow food within 125 miles of the District). The board also strives to accommodate its vendors’ concerns.
“Happy vendors make a happy market,” Kaplowitz says.
“They e-mail us, talk to us every morning, ask us how things are at the farm,” said Darlena Polling, of Spring Valley Farm & Orchard. Polling, who lives across the street from Spring Valley farmers Eli and Misty Cook in Slanesville, W.Va., said she enjoys selling produce at Westover.
“It’s really friendly, and kind of neighborly,” she said. “You get to know a lot of people here, they bring their family and tell you how their week was; in the long run, you get to make friends, get to know the families and it’s really cool.”
Toby Bantug, of nearby Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream & Coffee in the Westover shops, used to open at noon Sundays. When the market began , he started opening Sunday mornings.
“It used to be like a ghost town around here,” Bantug said. “Now we open up half an hour before the market opens so the vendors can come in, get a cup of coffee. . . . During the summer, we’re jampacked in here. We love it.”
Around the Washington area, other farmers markets are staying open year-round as well.
D.C.’s Palisades Farmers Market, run by the Palisades Citizens’ Association and set up by a cadre of neighborhood volunteers, is also open Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It was originally a Northwest summer market when it opened in 2008, but expanded to year-round with 20 vendors.
Wedged under a canopy of umbrellas in an alley at 48th Place and MacArthur Boulevard, Palisades vendors serve shrimp and sausage paella out of an enormous pot, Jamaican coffee, and savory crepes stuffed with Merguez lamb and Greek salad.
At the Blueberry Hill Organic Produce stand, Michael James travels from Clear Spring, Md., to sell fresh greens.
“I’ll take the whole thing,” a customer said on a recent Sunday, pointing to a bowl of mache lettuce.
James said he hasn’t often had problems with weather while driving to Palisades from Clear Springs. Any limitations on selling at the winter market tend to occur on the other side of the equation: The state of the crops on the farm.
“In the wintertime, it’s not always about the weather on market day; it’s the weather on harvest day. We pick all of this the day or two before market; we’re not picking this up at the grocery store, we’re growing it ourselves. If the weather doesn’t allow us to harvest, we can’t go to market.”
Lanyi is a freelance writer.