After 23 Years, Falls Church Farmers Market Still Growing

Story and Photos by Jimmy Scarano

It’s 10 a.m. on a Saturday and I could be sleeping in. Instead, I’m weaving my way through the dizzying crowds at the Falls Church Farmers Market, snapping pictures and trying not to run into toddlers in strollers and grandmothers with overstuffed shopping bags.

I walk around aimlessly, following my nose and the sea of shoppers.  Every vendor’s stall is meticulously set up to show off whatever it is they are selling.  I hone in on the plump, rosy red strawberries at Toigo Orchards and I’m in a trance.  Fruit never looked so good.  The strawberries at Black Rock Orchard and Flower of the Forest Farm look no less delicious. I think I’ll be taking a lot of pictures.

Asparagus is another hot-ticket item this time of year, with small bunches wrapped in rubber bands poking up in little bins everywhere, just begging to be thrown into a frittata or tossed on a hot grill with some good olive oil.  There are also radishes, innumerable varieties of spring lettuces, cabbages, and herbs, and even fresh peas, which I can’t resist buying for just three bucks from Musachio Produce Farm.  Mike Musachio, who has run the small fruit and vegetable farm out of Ridgley, Maryland, for 30 years, is kind enough to step away from his prized peas to give me a blow-by-blow account of a typical Saturday morning during the growing season, which confirms that as much as I love food, I will never, ever, be a farmer.

Mike Musachio

Mike Musachio

Musachio gets up at 3 a.m. (yes, there is a 3 a.m.) to load his truck with produce picked the day before and chilled to stay fresh.  He gets on the road by four and arrives in Falls Church around six to set up his stall. He’s ready by eight, when there are already people strolling around with their reusable bags. 

But the early morning trip is well worth it.

“People are more interested in buying locally now,” said Musachio, who has been making the drive to the City Hall parking lot for 12 years and has witnessed the volume of market-goers swell.  

It’s true — the market is a far cry from its beginning, well before even Musachio arrived.

Just ask Howard Herman, Falls Church City’s General Manager of Community Services, who launched the market 23 years ago.

“When we first started I was literally begging people to come,” Herman said. “We had eight farmers and they would complain that there wasn’t enough business for them.”

Herman remembers printing up t-shirts and hats, setting up signs all over town, and advertising in area newspapers. 

“Some Saturdays I sat there and wondered if it would survive,” said Herman, who also happens to be an avid beekeeper and has his own honey stand at the market.

Slowly, more people began to show up, and Herman started getting more vendors to come. Herman attributes the market’s success to several factors. First, he said, the food is fresher than at supermarkets, so it tastes better. Second, many people like the concept of supporting local farmers, helping them hold onto their prized farmland, and saving it from suburban development. But perhaps most important is the satisfaction of mingling at the market among neighbors and buying from the same smiling faces every week.

“There is an intrinsic sense of community that you feel when you walk into the market that you don’t feel when you walk into Giant,” Herman said.

A lot of people apparently have that feeling, because the City Hall parking lot now boasts 45 vendors in the spring and summer months. (And although fewer vendors sell during the winter, the market became a year-round venture two years ago.)

Back at the market, I’m noticing just how much variety there is. I’ve been on the lookout for mostly fruits and vegetables, but there is so much more that the choices are nearly  overwhelming. I spend more than a few minutes in front of the Dolcezza stand, reading the chalk board of gelato and sorbetto flavors from the Georgetown-based sweet shop. Mmmmm, Sicilian Blood Orange. Then there’s Cibola Farms, which beckons me with its sustainably raised buffalo and pork in just about every cut you can get at the supermarket.  They even have buffalo jerky! 

There are temptations at every turn.  Yeasty breads from Atwater’s Bakery. Fresh mozzarella and ricotta from Blue Ridge Dairy.  Fresh pasta from Smith Meadows Farm and Cavanna Pasta.  Fair trade coffee from Hondo Coffee Co.  The list goes on and on. Check out the full list at the City’s website (or, better yet, go to the market and check them out in person).

After an hour of walking around and a few more purchases I leave the market wishing I had more money and more time, as well as a bigger stomach.  But there’s always next week — and next month.  In fact, the market’s stalls will really burst in July, August, and September, when piles of sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, peaches, plums, nectarines, and all the other glories of late summer will appear.  I look forward to those Saturdays immensely and I hope that the crowds will only get bigger.

And if you do plan on dropping by, don’t forget your wallet! Prices are not cheap, although any money that goes to these hard-working farmers and artisanal producers is well spent in my book.

For now, though, I’m happy with my generous bag of shelled spring peas from Musachio, whose weathered hands I envision as I unpack my goodies at home.  It’s nice to have peas with a past.

June 4, 2009 


4 Responses to “After 23 Years, Falls Church Farmers Market Still Growing”

  1. Gary on June 4th, 2009 9:11 am

    A great well written piece on one of the many wonders of our city.

  2. Andy Rankin on June 4th, 2009 9:56 am

    I love the farmer’s market – thanks for the great article! I think one of the best recent additions is the booth selling crepes – they are delicious. The line can get long sometimes but it seems to move quickly.

    I have noticed that lately it seems like the space between both sides of the market has shrunk, making it tricky to navigate when things get crowded (which is most of the time now). I’m not sure what can be done about this – it seems like the vendors are being as efficient as they can (most have trucks/vans that they need to get into the space behind their booths).

  3. Jim Breiling on July 18th, 2009 10:21 am

    Location and hours?

  4. Jimmy Scarano on July 18th, 2009 11:45 am

    Jim- sorry, the hours should definitely have been posted on this story. The market is open 8-Noon on Saturdays (9am-Noon in the off-season, from January to April) in the City Hall Parking lot, right next to the Falls Church Community Center. Definitely check it out. Amazing stuff.

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