Though DC has some 49 supermarkets, only three of them are found in Wards 7 and 8. The 2016 closing of the Safeway just across the District line in Addison Plaza further exacerbated the lack of access to food for nearby neighborhoods, including DC neighborhoods east of the river.
Enter the Food Justice Coalition (FJC) of 20743, a group of local organizations and residents addressing food injustices in the 20743 ZIP Code and surrounding area. Through their efforts, on June 28, the Capital Market was launched – a farmers’ market that is bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to a neighborhood that has not had a grocery store in three years.
According to Brittney Drakeford, a Robert Wood Johnson culture of health leader and urban planning student at the University of Maryland, the neighborhood has been identified as a food desert, a Health Enterprise Zone and an Opportunity Zone, as it has some of the highest rates of chronic diseases in the area and lacks adequate access to fresh food. She notes that “the launch of this market is a great example of community resilience and residents’ ability to harness their social capital to combat years of structural, business and political neglect.”
Tarin Shaw, an organizer of the FJC, notes that the goal of the market is to provide fresh food to the local community, but also to bring that community together. “During the market’s soft launch, we jump-roped double Dutch together. We had people of all ages participating in a fun, old school game.”
The market is held every Friday, from June 7 to Sept. 27, 4-8 p.m., at 111 Capitol Heights Boulevard, Capitol Heights, Maryland, which is Metro accessible via the Capitol Heights Station (Blue/Silver Line). Vendors vary weekly, but seven staple vendors, in addition to offering fresh produce, sell items such as handcrafted jewelry, bodycare products and prepared food. The University of Maryland Extension provides cooking demonstrations and food tastings on certain dates, while the market’s produce partner, Dreaming Out Loud, offers cooking classes to participants of community supported agriculture (CSA).
To better address the needs of area residents, the market accepts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other benefit programs through the Maryland Market Money program, an initiative of the Maryland Farmers Market Association. This enables the market to provide a dollar-for-dollar match up to $10 for purchases made using food assistance.
According to Shaw, creating a resident-led farmers’ market was a challenging journey. “Being resident-run in a community that has been historically marginalized and disinvested means that we don’t have much funding, so partnerships are important.”
While FJC members knew they were interested in having a local farmers market, they wanted to ensure the broader community supported the idea. After that, they had to find a location.
According to Drakeford, the market opened as the Oakcrest Farmers Market at the Oakcrest Community Center in 2018. “While the market was a great success, turnout didn’t match the demand that we knew existed in the community. We analyzed pedestrian and car-traffic in the area and decided to move the market to a place with more foot traffic. We decided that a location near the Capitol Heights Metro station would be ideal, so we relocated the market to a site that was closer to Washington, DC, the University of the District of Columbia’s East Capitol Urban Farm on East Capitol Street and the former Safeway site.” The location change also spurred a renaming of the market to “The Capital Market of 20743” or “The Capital Market.”
Meanwhile, the former Oakcrest Farmers Market now operates as the Capital Market of 20743 and continues to provide another fresh produce resource for area residents.
Kyle Reeder, manager for the Capital Market, has been impressed with FJC’s efforts and perseverance. “It has taken a lot of effort to organize this grassroots market. All of the organizers are volunteers who do this work in addition to their fulltime jobs.”
While the creation of the farmers’ market is the FJC’s biggest coup to date, it’s not the only accomplishment. Formed in February 2017 through a joint partnership between the Capital Area Food Bank and the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council, FJC has been a strong advocate for ensuring access to healthy, affordable, sustainably produced, safe and culturally appropriate food. It has helped communities reclaim local ownership of food systems by promoting exchanges and relationships among farmers, chefs, consumers, faith-based organizations and local nonprofits.
Looking for some affordable and locally grown fresh produce? Stop by the Capital Market next Friday evening. You might be able to join a round of double Dutch, too!
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member and the vice chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.