Farmers markets flourish in Reston and Chantilly church parking lots

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A rainbow of produce — neatly stacked tomatoes, bunches of carrots, yellow and green squash, and baskets of blueberries and raspberries — fill tables under a large tent. Vendors with clever names such as Semper Fi Fungi and the Inside Scoop ice cream truck peddled their wares near homemade peanut butter, pickles and pastries. The savory smell of barbeque from a bright orange smoker pervaded the market.

Since early May, Smart Markets, a local traveling farmers market, has found a home in the spacious lot of St. John Neumann Church in Reston on Wednesday afternoons. The next day, it moves to St. Veronica Church in Chantilly, then onto other locations in Northern Virginia. On a recent summer evening, the market hummed with people, especially mothers and children, looking for an after-school snack and fresh ingredients for that night’s dinner.

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Nora Gibbens, 3, takes a bite out of her ice cream from the Inside Scoop truck. ZOEY MARAIST | CATHOLIC HERALD

Erin Gibbens and her three daughters —  Grace, Clara and Nora —  purchased purple cauliflower, broccoli and cherries before giving in to the siren call of the ice cream truck. “I picked the cherries by myself,” said Nora, 3, who sat on the curb with her sisters, clutching a flower in one hand and a dripping vanilla cone in the other. “I made them choose something healthy before they could get ice cream,” Gibbens said with a smile.

Parishioner Alessandra Ricci came for the tomatoes. “I went last week to try because I never find good tomatoes,” she said with an Italian lilt. “Here the tomatoes are so good, like in Italy.” Ricci is a vegan with an “almost” vegan family, so plenty of fruits and vegetables are always on their table. “We love eating healthy,” she said.

She also appreciates that the produce at the market is grown primarily without pesticides, though most of the small farms who sell there don’t use the organic label due to the laborious government certification process. Throughout the stalls, customers were heard asking the farmers how and where their food was grown. A seller from Fossil Rock Farm explained that the ripe were grown under a high tunnel, which allows plants to flourish in the field with the added warmth and protection that comes from heat-trapping tenting.

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Alessandra Ricci sorts through fresh tomatoes at Ignacio’s Produce. ZOEY MARAIST | CATHOLIC HERALD

Parishioner Kathy Fredgrem enjoys the communal feel of going to a farmers market. “Being outside, you get to appreciate your environment,” she said. “We slow down a little bit. You relax more than when you’re rushing through a grocery store.”

It’s appropriate, too, that the market is at a church, she said. “We try to take care of our spirits here and we need to be taking care of our bodies,” said Fredgrem. “(At the market) we’re getting a healthier assortment of food, so it’s part of taking care of your instrument.”

The St. John Neumann community has high hopes for working with the farmers market. The health ministry might hand out healthy recipes, said Director of Outreach Jo-An Duggan, and the Care for Our Common Home ministry might hand out reusable bags. Soon, they’d like to have a voucher program for low-income parishioners to buy from the market.

The partnership between the market and the church has a lot of evangelization potential, said Diana Acker, apostolate coordinator of St. Veronica.

“I (like) that right here on the outskirts of Washington, in this highly charged atmosphere, you can pull off the road and buy tomatoes straight from the field,” she said. People may end their shopping trip with a prayer in the church, said Acker, “but only the Holy Spirit would have those figures. Hopefully, we are planting the seeds for the future.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@ZoeyMaraistACH