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White House Farmers Market: The After-Party

A collective "whew!" was expelled in the Atrium at the Old Ebbitt Grill in downtown Washington last night, as vendors, supporters and friends celebrated the brand-spanking-new farmers market that is close (in more ways than one) to the White House.

In case you didn't catch the first video with first lady Michelle Obama's opening remarks, here it is:

After the market closed at 7, FreshFarm Market co-directors Ann Yonkers and Bernardine Prince led a posse to their party, where folks clinked glasses and enjoyed some tasty hors d'oeuvres (more on that in a minute).

It looks like our colleague Dana Milbank found the prices a bit hard to take, but a steady stream of customers kept buying in waves throughout the four-hour afternoon session, making it FreshFarm's most successful market opening ever. "At some point near the end we counted 700 people who had come through" in one 30-minute period, Yonkers said. "We're ecstatic." She said several vendors sold everything they'd brought, or had come closer to it than they expected. "We even ran out of Double Dollars" -- used to match the first $25 in food stamps and other supplemental programs for families and seniors.

Around town, any market with 19 vendors qualifies as generously sized, but Yonkers was quick to point out the wide expanse of road -- "58 feet!" -- between the two rows of stands set up on opposite sides of the 800 block of Vermont Avenue. That allows everyone a bit more breathing space than, say, at FreshFarm's packed Dupont Circle market on Sundays. (We especially liked the free lavender soap hand-washing setup in front of the stand for Welsh Gardens of Warrenton.)

Mark Toigo of Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pa., was pleased with the day: "We did really well. This could be cool for us." Toigo's already got a firm corner on several markets around the D.C. area, including Clarendon, Annandale, Bethesda, Reston, Lorton, Takoma Park, and Penn Quarter, just a few blocks from this new gig.

Robin Shuster, market maven of Bloomingdale and 14th and U Street, and her husband Jeff came to the new market about an hour before it opened, and stayed for the party. Casing the competition? "Of course I wish them the best!" she said, standing in the buzzy crowd of 100 or so. "I watched the waves of workers come out of those buildings about every hour. Steady foot traffic is definitely a bonus."

But enough about all that. We were happy to see that the party food was up to the occasion. The Old Ebbitt kitchen, under executive chef Robert McGowan and Clyde's executive chef John Guattery, used all local food, including apples, pears and tomatoes from Toigo and pork from Eco-Friendly Farms, which also sells at FreshFarm markets. The party-sized dishes included roast pork tenderloin with corn salsa; thin-crust veggie pizzas with roasted vegetables and goat cheese; cheesy potato-tomato tarts; practically perfect crab cakes; Honeycrisp apple jelly squares; and little plum turnovers, reminiscent of Southern fried hand pies, flaky on the outside and tart-sweet within. One of us couldn't help himself and ended up having six.

The boldface names we spotted included chefs Jose Andres, Todd Gray and Janis McLean, Rancho La Puerta founder Deborah Szekely, Ellen Haas of, Edible Chesapeake's Renee Brooks Catacalos, Mel Davis of Citronelle, Annie Boutin King of the Ritz-Carlton and Susan Soorenko of Moorenko's. There was word that White House garden guru Sam Kass might just make a showing, but it didn't happen, at least not by last call.

-- Bonnie Benwick and Joe Yonan

By The Food Section  |  September 18, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  To Market, To Market  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Joe Yonan, White House Farmers Market  
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It's exciting to see every new local, producer farmers' market open in DC and I think this one will be very popular! Tons of space for producers and customers.

Eventually, I hope we have at least one DC farmers' market every day of the week. That's my dream.

Posted by: robinshuster | September 18, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

What would be even greater would be to see all of those consumers using reusable bags... all that plastic makes me want to cringe...

Posted by: sunshyn24 | September 18, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

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