Today, FRESHFARM Markets Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors Ann Harvey Yonkers and Bernadine Prince announced they would be retiring later this year. Here are their thoughts on what the past 18 years have meant to them, the evolution of the delicious local food revolution and more.
Endings and Beginnings
As the time has been approaching for the announcement about stepping down from FRESHFARM Markets, I have kept coming back to four major themes:
- The founding of FRESHFARM Markets
- Farmers markets create place and community
- Why I am grateful
- Leaving FRESHFARM Markets
The Founding of FRESHFARM Markets
It has been such a privilege to found and lead FRESHFARM Markets for the past 18 years. I am very lucky to have found work that united both my passion and vocation, work that called deeply upon my skills and knowledge as well provided me with a sustaining sense of mission.
I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to create something new, to start fresh, to get it right. From the beginning, I felt a kind of destiny in this work and a sense of confidence that I had a unique role to play. Following the advice of master local farmers Susan and Chip Planck as well as Moie and Jim Crawford, and by utilizing best practices from markets around the county, we created an organization that was farmer focused, that could measure our progress and was committed to education of all stakeholders including farmers, customers and local officials. By adopting percentage fees, counting customers, choosing market gleaning partners, creating a chef-at-market program and going on farm visits we forged a unique path. One that has served us well as we have grown beyond our original vision.
We always thought big including a preference for closing streets to hold markets. This proved to be one of our greatest challenges and nearly our undoing early on, but insisting on converting streets to farmers markets eventually proved to be one of our strongest suits. It said, “Take notice. Farmers markets matter. We are here to stay.”
Farmers Markets Create Place and a Community
Farmers markets have a unique ability to create a place and forge community. Maybe it has to do with their temporary nature, the original pop-ups if you will. The food is beyond beautiful and invites touching, smelling, sampling and conversations. The farmers and producers are there, so customers can simply ask how and where it was grown, and by whom.
I have loved being part of this magic quality of markets and witnessing it happen in so many settings. The Penn Quarter FRESHFARM Market from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. draws office workers out of their cubicles, chefs from their nearby kitchens, commuters on their way home and residents as they return home. Suddenly it is a community. And there are so many conversations happening.
On Sunday morning’s, the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market is a destination in and of itself, and a regional pilgrimage. It is our market with a national profile and it is a beloved Sunday morning ritual for many Washingtonians. In the little town of St Michaels, MD, our market is the gathering place for the town residents. A place for conversation and catching up on local gossip while waiting in line to buy croissants or sunflowers or the first peaches.
Why I am Grateful
Most Americans have never met a farmer. They are essential to our everyday survival but are completely under appreciated. I am lucky enough to have worked with more than a hundred of them these past 18 years. My hat’s off to them and how they grow delicious food under all conditions. I am in awe of what they know about soil and seeds, pruning and cultivars, engines and greenhouses, heating systems and caring for animals, to say nothing of harvesting, storage, transportation and presentation of product at market. We buyers love to see their gorgeous food, but what really is most impressive is behind the scenes. I have loved going to their farms, learning from them, talking with them about their ups and downs and watching their progressive successes. I am deeply grateful to have earned their trust.
I have looked at our producers, an emerging class of food entrepreneurs, with pleasure and anticipation as they are bringing new excitement to our markets by way of their pickles, tacos, soup, charcuterie, wood fired pizza and more. They are building businesses because of the new abundance of local food.
I cherish our customers – the original loyalists from 1997 and all of the newer ones. They are giving their support to local agriculture by showing up at markets, and voting with their forks and their wallets.
I am so grateful to our market partners in Washington, DC and Virginia – the Downtown BID, Mount Vernon Triangle CID, CityCenterDC, Edens at Union Market, Crystal City BID and Ballston BID. Without them we would not be able to build our markets and constituencies, broaden our influence and reach new heights.
We have been so fortunate to attract quality people as FRESHFARM Markets staff and volunteers. I see such creative work, commitment to creating community, hardiness, growth, service and loyalty to our mission. What a pleasure to go to work every day.
Our Board is the absolute best. We’ve relied on Board members to guide us in our market policies, organize our financials and raise much needed funds. Now as we transition, they are also transitioning to a governing board. It’s been a thrill to see them step up.
I am grateful to Bernie Prince, my co-conspirator and partner of 18 years, for her absolute enthusiasm for the markets, her high standards and for all her hard work to create the FRESHFARM Markets we see today. I know of no one who works harder and cares more. Bravo, Bernie! We did something great!
Leaving FRESHFARM Markets
Leaving FRESHFARM Markets feels very different than starting it. Instead of leaning in, it means stepping back and taking stock. I can clearly see we’ve come such a long way. We created a successful organization beyond our dreams. FRESHFARM Markets is like a beloved child, one I have cherished, worried over and championed for 18 years and is now ready to fly away and discover new ways to excel. It’s time, and that’s fine with me. I am a proud Mama.
~ Ann Harvey Yonkers, FRESHFARM Markets co-founder and co-executive director
Reflections on FRESHFARM Markets
I never thought creating a farmers market would be so challenging (i.e., difficult!) and yet rewarding in so many wonderful ways. When I see the farmer tents at the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market, my spirits soar, just knowing that we did it—we transformed a dusty parking lot and a city street into a bustling producer-only farmers market or as some customers say “the church of the market” every Sunday in the heart of Washington, DC, our nation’s capital. Over the past 18 years, I have had the privilege to work with the most talented farmers and producers and smart, young staff to create the best and largest farmers market network in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
FRESHFARM Markets has been a huge part of my life and I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished. I look forward to every market day! I love talking to the farmers, hearing that Eli Cook’s crew at Spring Valley Farm & Orchard crossed two icy mountain ranges to get to market, Heinz Thomet of Next Step Produce has sticky rice and rolled oats, Zach Lester of Tree & Leaf Farm has a new batch of spicy kimchi, Eric Rice of Country Pleasures Farm has my favorite fruits–organic Montmorency cherries and blueberries, Emily Zaas from Black Rock Orchard has pawpaws. I love taking the pulse of the market, seeing so many regular market shoppers, and knowing that nearly every farmer or producer I see is staying in business and looking forward to the next season or the next market s/he can be part of with FRESHFARM Markets.
I will miss taking on the next FRESHFARM Market adventure with co-founder Ann Yonkers, who as been the best, most passionate, local foods partner to work with for more then 18 years. I will miss ringing the market bell, going on farm visits and seeing the bounty of food, flowers and more every FRESHFARM Market day. But I know it is time to go—to have another passionate and far-sighted leader take FRESHFARM Markets to the next level.
Most dear to me are two programs I created. First is SNAP/Food Stamp redemption at markets and our Matching Dollars program that started in 2009 to help low income shoppers afford fresh market food. FRESHFARM Markets was the first DC farmers market to accept SNAP and the second to do so in Maryland, plus we give Matching Dollars tokens to shoppers using their USDA Supplemental Nutrition benefits at our farmers markets. This program makes fresh, healthy food accessible and affordable to people in need and thanks to hundreds of individual donors FRESHFARM Markets has given out more than $200,000 in Matching Dollars since 2009.
Second is the FoodPrints’ gardening and nutrition education program now in five DC schools and a model for teaching life skills so young people know how to grow, care for, harvest and prepare fresh healthy food. I have been so lucky to have Jennifer Mampara (FoodPrints Director) to create the curriculum; Barbara Percival (Master Gardener) to build the organic, edible school garden at Watkins and a talented team of FoodPrints’ teachers to teach young people about healthy eating. I estimate that about 10,000 students are eating raw kale salad as their favorite FoodPrints dish since the program started at Watkins elementary school in 2009. It makes me happy to see families shopping at market with their FoodPrints recipes in hand because the children want to eat more fresh vegetables! Educating our next generation of eaters is so important to me, and I’m glad to have inspired this food revolution for young students in the District. I’m hoping that FoodPrints will not only be a model for nutrition education but actually BE in every elementary school in DC, and maybe next year in Delaware!
I’ve shared FRESHFARM Markets’ successes with other market managers and farmers by speaking at conferences and workshops throughout the USA. Because of FRESHFARM Markets, I have traveled to Australia and New Zealand where farmers market managers in those countries are using our producer-only model for their farmers markets. I have served two terms as president of the national Farmers Market Coalition and I’ve been asked to continue serving as president in 2015.
When I retire later this year, I’ll join my husband on our 10-acre “Blue Skies Farm” in Georgetown, Delaware where I have started to grow lots of flowers, garlic and strawberries—all organic. Come spring, I will be planting fig trees, paw paws and organic vegetables in my new raised garden beds. My husband Ray has bigger plans. So if you hear about the guy who believes he can grow trees inoculated with the truffle spore in Delaware—that’s Ray with a dream that keeps us both reaching for the stars!
Will I miss FRESHFARM Markets? I will miss every market day, talking to the farmers and their staff, the incredible foods and farm products that are brought to market, and yes, I’ll miss ringing the market bell. But I know that it is only a two-hour drive from our Delaware farm to DC. I know I can visit FoodPrints schools and see new school gardens growing. I know I am on Cedarbrook Farm’s ham list forever. I know where to find the best food at FRESHFARM Markets farmers markets every week in DC.
FRESHFARM Markets has been a wonderful experience for me and I trust the next leader of FRESHFARM Markets will be just as successful in growing the organization—perhaps finding a permanent market site or a second Dupont Circle market site on weekdays in the new park planned for Connecticut Avenue.
I’ll be cheering from Delaware and always ready to return to ring the opening bell.
~~ Bernadine Prince, FRESHFARM Markets co-founder and co-executive director