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Controversy Ripens Over Farmers Market Near White House

Obama garden II.jpgBack in August, President Obama expressed interest in launching a farmers market near the White House as a way of supporting locally grown food and raising awareness about nutrition. But from that seed of an idea, a controversy is ripening.

FreshFarm Markets, which runs farmers markets around D.C., has applied for a permit for a new location at Vermont Ave. near H St., just a block from the First Family's residence, Post reporters Jane Black and Ashley Halsey report.

The problem: Vermont Avenue would be shutdown between H and I streets every Thursday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. between mid-September and the end of October. Some D.C. residents worry the closure would create traffic headaches during the busy evening rush hour.

The D.C. Department of Transportation, which must approve the permit, is expected to make a decision in the next couple of days, although a spokesman said the department still has questions about the project. An Advisory Neighborhood Council for the area endorsed the market at a meeting last week.

So the question to you is: Is fresh produce worth the potential traffic problems? Weigh in on our poll.

By Washington Post Editors  |  September 9, 2009; 12:22 PM ET
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Is that one little block really THAT heavily trafficked?

Posted by: stephykay | September 9, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Why not put it in the park right in front of the White House?

Posted by: Aswft1 | September 9, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Michellle going to sell her garden's vegetables at this market?

Posted by: Citizen0 | September 9, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Why not highlight the numerous farmer's markets in the area and leave Vermont Avenue alone. Stephykay, yes, that entire area is very heavily congested, and should the FLOTUS come to the market, they will shut down more streets for her protection, causing more than one motorists, bus rider, or even a person trying to walk to one of the two Metro stops to slit their wrists. Not a good idea at all!

Posted by: merzydoats | September 9, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm all in favor of farmers' markets, but I don't see the point in locating them in non-residential areas. Who is supposed to patronize this particular market other than the Obamas?

Posted by: VDouglass | September 9, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Merzydoats ... 81 percent are against you.

You are loud and obnoxious, but America is against you. And Palin. And Beck. And Limbaugh.

Obama says "yes we can." And we shall overcome!

Neocon nuts need to leave the country now! We're coming after you!


Posted by: bs2004 | September 9, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

It's was an Advisory Neighborhood Commission, not a "Council."

Posted by: CrestwoodKat | September 9, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

What is the point of having a farmer's market when everybody is at work or trying to get home from work?

Why can't the farmer's market be on the weekend?

And what's wrong with all of the other DC farmer's markets that necessitates a new one?

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | September 9, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I walk down that block every single day and there is hardly any traffic. A farmer's market on that block of Vermont is a great idea, especially for those who live in the city, miles away from a grocery store. To the opponents of this idea, I say start using the metro!

Posted by: JMK_DC | September 9, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Put it in front of the White House or maybe off to the side towards 17th or 15th street on that pedestrian plaza.

But don't block off a street during rush hour. Are people crazy!?!

Posted by: ghokee | September 9, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

A lot of the produce at farmers markets comes from the same wholesalers supplying Safeway and Giant. The vision of a small local farmer bring in produce from his small farm in a pickup truck is kind of a fantasy. He just stops by those produce wholesalers along 6th St. NE across from Galludet University. I see them all the time.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | September 9, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Bitter_Bill: I frequent the Penn Quarter farmers' market, and happen to know that they DO grow their own produce.

Now a general comment -- I don't see the use in this particular farmers' market specifically because of the Penn Quarter market, which is also on Thursday afternoons. If they were to do this one near the White House on, say, Mondays, then it would be great. Having two days per week when I could walk to pick up fresh produce would be lovely.

Posted by: stalkeyedfly | September 9, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

JMK_DC- if you're on Vermont and are so fond of Metro and need a farmer's market, hop an Orange Line train in the direction of New Carrolton and get off at Eastern Market.

It's not so hard.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | September 9, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the above posters, why not use one of the streets that the Secret Service has already closed. That would be closer to the White House. I also agree that another day other than Thursday would be more practical, if FreshFarms intends to keep the Penn Market going on Thursday. Could this mean they are trading one for the other?

Posted by: ehardwick | September 9, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I have no problem with a farmer's market, but there's GOT to be a better place for it. Why not use the pedestrian plaza they put in front of the White House? That's a ready-made traffic nightmare that we're used to. They don't need to create another one on Vermont Avenue.

Posted by: gammagirl | September 9, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I like Michelle Obama, but she is displaying some real gall here. Just because she is ushered by Secret Service to get anywhere she wants in a quickie doesn't mean everyone else has the same luxury. Furthermore, the people in that part of the city are not hurting for the lack of access to fresh, organic produce. There are plenty of spots in the 'hoods of DC where junk food corner stores need to be balanced by something like this. And these 'hoods have plenty of open spaces where traffic will not be a problem. I think this is a self-aggrandizing needless project. Oh, and I wonder what the Dept of Transportation is going to rule? (suspense, NOT!)

Posted by: forgetthis | September 9, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

The park across from the White House is an excellent place for their vegetable market!! "Giving" some to those less fortunate would be a good thing too, not just for profit!

Posted by: aowilk25 | September 9, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

IMO. It's a stupid idea to do so on a weekday in a location so far away from residential areas. No kids could likely make it to the market unless they went on their own (parents would need to leave and come back if they wanted to bring their kids), so the awareness of nutrition bit is not a good excuse. If another farmer's market is needed, closing off a street is completely unnecessary. Why not just alow a few trucks to occassionally park on Franklin Square or somesuch.

In other news, if anyone is reading the comments, the new Fenton St. market in Silver Spring previews this weekend.

Posted by: burkemic99 | September 9, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the folks who say put it right on the closed portion of Pennsylvania avenue in front of the White House. Seriously. Not many tourists on THURSDAY...and if there is a security risk, put USSS details in the crowd...why close even MORE roads when we have a HUGE UNUSED road in front of the White House. And what a perfect back drop for a farmers market!

Posted by: chaddsford1971 | September 9, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

To the proponents of this market, I say "use the metro" and go to the one in Penn Quarter at the same time, conveniently located half way between the Archives and Chinatown Metro stops.

Posted by: ah___ | September 9, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

My feeling is that I put a lot of weight on the Advisory Neighborhood Council, which endorsed it. I think it's more important for the neighborhood to weigh in, than for the through-traffic commuters. If the neighbors were against it, I'd say no.

That being said, if there truly is a "yes but" option with a less traveled road (I doubt this, as otherwise wouldn't that have been suggested to begin with?) of course that would be best of all and easiest on both neighbors and commuters.

Best of all would be a continued growth of farmers' markets throughout the city as this is certainly a major issue for lower-income urban residents who have no fresh food nearby. Fairfax County of all places has a dozen county-sponsored farmers markets all over the county every week. It would be great to see this in the city as well.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | September 9, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I think a Farmer's Market is a terrific idea - but surely Lafayette Park would be much better suited for this - open space - easily accessible - and will not close any streets - nor take away the parking for White House staffers behind the White House - although that would also be a good spot for the Farmer's Market. Closing Vermont Avenue - in front of the VA - would be a disaster for the employees there trying to get in to pick up carpoolers - or out of the area when leaving work! Bad Idea -

Posted by: pk08 | September 9, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

This is really stupid. The Secret Service has already taken away too many streets in that area (Pennsylvania Avenue, Madison Place, whatever the one across Lafayette Park from Madison Place is, East Executive Avenue, and E Street). Closing another street right around there for a farmers' market is a terrible idea. As others have said, what's wrong with using Pennsylvania Avenue? Yes, there might be some security involved in terms of getting the merchants' vehicles and stands into place, but it's not that big of a deal. Or use E Street--while that street in particular ought to be reopened to traffic due to its distance from the White House, if Obama isn't willing to lay down the law to the Secret Service on reopening it then we ought to get SOME sort of use out of it, and it would likely be less of a hassle to park the farmers' market there than on Pennsylvania.

Essentially, closing streets is asinine when there's no reason to do so.

Posted by: 1995hoo | September 9, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I am familiar with the operations the group that is reported to have requested the permit.

So, in answer to various questions posted here.

After work markets in office-heavy areas are very busy. Many people love to shop there on their way home.

All the food would be grown by the farmers (which is verified, by surprise visits if necessary.)

All their markets have non-profit partners which provides excess or day-old food to the needy.

Traffic flow and security questions are not my things, but I hope this helps.

Posted by: msegal | September 9, 2009 11:19 PM | Report abuse

I think it's a great idea! People who work downtown can grab some quick groceries before they head home. Tourists can get a taste of the local food around here. While I've seen a lot of farmers markets around the area selling wholesale items, Freshfarm Markets has very strict guidelines that all items must be produced by the person selling it--haven't you ever been to dupont circle? Talk to the farmers!

Also, in this economy, is anyone really worried about traffic over creating LOCAL revenue and jobs?? Seriously! Who drives near the white house during rush hour anyway?

Posted by: davioste | September 10, 2009 7:40 AM | Report abuse

I think the farmers' market should be located in a low-income DC neighborhood where access to affordable fresh produce is very difficult. We are never going to have a chance as a country to decrease rates of diabetes and obesity if some of these continue to be largely "food deserts." The produce you do see in some of these stores is clearly the leftovers... wilted lettuce, bruised fruit, etc. Not very appetizing.

Patrons of a farmers' market by the VA building will be mainly employees from large law firms, trade groups and federal employees. Many already have access to fresh produce, whether through farmers' markets they can frequent closer to home or regular grocery stores.

I imagine a lot of communities in the 8th Ward, for example, would welcome an opportunity to purchase affordable, quality fresh produce. If the WH is serious about encouraging healthy eating, they should target their efforts where it is not so redundant and can do the most good.

Posted by: cynthiahaney | September 11, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

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