The City of Alexandria hosts five farmers’ markets, with the majority available on the weekends. Most markets are open from April or May until November, while two operate year round. Oftentimes, prices are better than at a supermarket. Some vendors are local farmers that offer organic or natural produce. If you can’t make it one week to the market, another market may feature the same vendors.
Upper King Street Fresh Farmers’ Market
While I spied a few strollers, this market is designed with commuters in mind. Parking is extremely difficult given that it is in Old Town. There are no bathrooms, but there is a Hilton hotel across the street. The small park has benches, a few tables and chairs and a water fountain.
On the day I stopped by there were five vendors, all of which are required to be local, meaning grown or produced within 250 miles of Alexandria. While samples would have been nice, the smell of the fresh goods was intoxicating.
Bon Vivant carries honey, eggs, cheese, free-range chicken and grass feed meats. There are two produce vendors, one selling strictly vegetables while the other has specialty eggplant, sweet onions, eggs, cantaloupe, watermelons and potted Mums. A couple was enjoying sliced watermelon at one of the tables and it looked so delicious. Rounding out the market is a bakery with loaves of bread and a fresh squeezed lemonade stand.
Old Town Farmers’ Market
Since 1753, the largest farmers’ market in Alexandria has been operating every Saturday at Market Square. Believed to the be one of the nation’s oldest continually running farmers’ markets, George Washington sent his produce from Mount Vernon to be sold here.
The early birds set up shop at 5:30am and continue until 11am. There is free parking in the Market Square garage during the hours of the Farmers’ Market. Enter the garage on Fairfax Street. While often crowded, the wide walkways are stroller friendly. Children can enjoy dipping their toes in the fountain or running amuck on the stage.
Maribeth’s Bakery serves up reasonably priced kid-friendly iced-cookies, rustic bread, pies and amazing ham, cheese and scallion scones. Golden Apiaries has local honey, with and without the comb from their bee farm in Singers Glen, VA.
There are two florists, a dried flower wreath stand, homemade pasta and sauce vendor from Richmond, artisans displaying jewelry, a few children’s clothing booths and a man who cranks out fresh squeezed OJ. A handful of produce vendors are scattered throughout, but beware, some of them are resellers. You can tell this because the vegetables are out of season, don’t look fresh, and the prices are ridiculous. One farm displays a table full of mixed greens for your picking along with radishes and cage free eggs. On the corners facing the King street side are two local fruit farms. They serve up samples of fresh, apple slices, peaches and other seasonal fruits. The cheese stand serves samples of gourmet Cheddar and Gruyere. All the people were friendly and were happy to answer questions about their products.
Del Ray Farmers’ Market
On Saturdays, from 8am to noon, the small parking lot on the corner of East Oxford and Mt. Vernon Avenues packs in a dozen producer only vendors. Everything here is Virginia grown with the exception of one stall, and the best part is the market is open year round.
Parking can be found on Mt. Vernon Avenue or on any residential street. While the walkways are narrow, I did see a few strollers maneuver through with ease towards the last hour of the market. There are no bathrooms nearby, but there are many dining options for families within a short walk.
There’s a sign that reads “Fresh Fish” pointing to the truck from Kinsale and a farm selling free range whole chickens, chorizo and eggs. Vine Ripe Farm in Millwood is passionate about the dozen plus varieties of tomatoes they grow along with Hungarian Hot Mix Peppers. There’s the mother-daughter chef duo known for their soul food and the Amish dairy man who can be found at other local markets. There are plenty of options for the sweet tooth including sweet potato bread, apple cider donuts, New Orleans pralines and macaroons.
For moms and moms to be, check out Momme Meals. All recipes are reviewed by a dietician and their line of frozen organic food includes soups, Chicken Pot Pie, sorbet and Lemon Lavender Blueberry muffins.
Four Mile Run Farmers’ & Artisans Market
Joggers and cyclists can be seen passing through the trail entrance of Four Mile Run Park. It’s also the location of The Four Mile Run Farmers’ and Artisans Market held Sundays from 8am until 1pm. Parking is located in a small, vacant store lot adjacent to the market. There is plenty of room as the few vendors are spread out, but may be challenging for some strollers as the ground is full of big stones and gravel.
With only a half dozen stalls set up, the market was quite small and left something to be desired in terms of choices. Uncommon Knits specialize in handmade linens, but the majority of items looked common. There were two produce companies which both sold mainly vegetables, but I did see some cantaloupe. At $4 for a quart of small red potatoes, it is cheaper to visit the supermarket. Someone was selling fancy water which didn’t seem to fit the farmers’ market theme and while there was a pastry stand, they’re a chain and I could visit them anytime. The only thing that caught my interest was the Shenandoah beef farmer. Stifler Farms carry natural farm-raised beef and pork free of hormones and antibiotics. Their cattle are fed on grass and corn. Kudos to them for offering sustainable choices.
There were no free samples anywhere. There were only two people there next to my family and I can see why. I love supporting local, but this community was lacking in its offerings. My suggestion would be to skip this market and head further down Mount Vernon Avenue to the Del Ray market.
West End Farmers’ Market
On Sundays, from 9am to 1pm, one of the parking lots at Ben Brenman Park is transformed into a farmers’ market. Named for the West End of Alexandria, families, strollers, and four legged friends are welcome to this primarily producer-only market.
Parking is very limited and fills up quickly. Enjoy your goodies on a park bench while the kids let loose at the nearby playground. Bathroom facilities and water fountains are also nearby.
The On the Gourmet truck is the most popular stop for glass-bottled milk, ice cream and cage free and organic eggs. They also sell grass-fed, hormone-free beef and bison, sauces, dressings and produce. The only place you will find squash blossoms is at Alma’s Berries stand. Amish Dairy Products stocks a variety of homemade yogurt, jellies, bread and butter pickles and contraband Amish butter. No, I did not get sick from eating unpasteurized butter.
Billie, the same florist from the Old Town market, is here and again, gave my kiddo a free flower. Also a regular at other markets is Cavanna pasta. At this market, in addition to the yummy Panzotti, they were selling homemade sausage biscuits. Unfortunately, they ran out at 11am. Instead of OJ, $3 will get you a cup of fresh, tart lemonade. There’s also organic, fair-trade coffee, candied nuts, fresh baked bread and pastries, oil paintings, jewelry and glass art.
While much smaller than area venues, the variety of fruits and vegetables was better here. The fruit smelled wonderful and farm fresh, the way it should be. You can really get to know the vendors well. This is the only Alexandria market that features events such as a yoga workshop and fire safety day.
Whichever farmers’ market you choose, there are five in the City of Alexandria spread throughout the year. Some marketers are frequent at more than one market making it easier to choose your favorite location. Get there early if there is a particular item you are set on because stock is limited. Bring small bills, bags and a cooler if you are buying non-perishables. You can also feel good knowing the majority of the market venues are independent growers and sellers. For an abundance of local, sustainable food, support your local markets and bring the farm to your table.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.