Every Sunday morning, junior Julia Walsh leaves her house and drives to Bethesda Elementary School, armed with a reusable tote bag and enough cash to buy all the fresh produce and baked goods she could dream of at the Bethesda Central Farm Market. A morning mix of productivity and relaxation is exactly what Walsh expects from the farmers market.
Hosting over 60 vendors every week, the Bethesda Central Farm Market is one of the largest farmers markets in the D.C. area.
“I like how the community really comes together when they go to the farmers market,” Walsh said. “Although most of the time I just come to see the dogs.”
With stands ranging from an award-winning chocolate brand to an exotic flower grower, there are countless unique vendors at the farmers market for dogs and humans alike to sniff their way through. Here are just a few:
While living in Guatemala, Chocotenango owner Ismael Neggaz “fell in love with chocolate.” Neggaz, who has been a pastry chef
since 1994, has traveled around the world working in restaurants. He has lived on four different continents and has worked at high-end restaurants in London, D.C. and Boston. But he always wanted to start his own business, Neggaz said.
He founded Chocotenango, an artisan chocolate business, in 2005. The brand became extremely popular in Guatemala quickly
after its opening, but Neggaz closed the store to move to D.C., since his wife was offered a job in the U.S. He worked in another restaurant for a few years before deciding that he wanted to restart his chocolate business. Ever since, Chocotenango has flourished, growing through online sales and farmers market appearances.
“I hated having a boss,” Neggaz said. “I really wanted to be my own.”
Chocotenango chocolate is made entirely from scratch with beans from a small organic cocoa farmer in the Dominican Republic.
Although Chocotenango is locally based, it often receives international recognition. Since its founding, the business has won 18 international chocolate awards, and last year, Neggaz’s chocolate won a silver award in the International Chocolate Awards competition.
“When I make chocolate, I make it good,” Neggaz said.
Master’s Touch Plants and Produce
Mark Bishop, owner of Master’s Touch Plants and Produce, likes growing unconventional products. His plants and produce are “international, exotic and rare.”
“I got bored with the same old, same old, so I wanted to experiment,” Bishop said. “We got more bizarre as time went on.”
Bishop started his business 15 years ago, after his son graduated from high school. He had always gardened, but it wasn’t until his son helped him that he turned his hobby into a business. Now, his son is married and has moved away but still helps out at the farm once a week.
Bishop’s products range from grow-your-own turmeric plants to four different varieties of hot peppers, all grown in hand-constructed greenhouses. He sells at three different farmers markets each week, with Bethesda being the largest.
For Bishop, experimenting with what he grows makes his job more interesting.
“We like the weird stuff,” he said, “I think other people do too.”
Heirloom Kitchen, run by chef Christine Ilich, is dedicated to being eco-conscious. Ilich sells vegetarian and vegan soups made with seasonal, local vegetables, all packaged in compostable containers. Everything she grows is pesticide-free.
“I don’t spray anything,” Ilich said. “If a bug or a critter gets to my tomatoes, I just deal with it.”
Ilich was a professional chef in New York before she decided to move out to the Virginia countryside and live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. She grows a majority of her ingredients in her own garden and buys the rest from other vendors at the farmers market.
Ilich also sells other products, like hummus and ratatouille, but soup is her biggest seller.
“People love soups, and I’m really good at making soup,” she said. “I thought that would be a really creative way of using a lot of different vegetables and herbs.”
If a product can have lavender in it, Lovemore Lavender probably sells it. The Calvert County based farm has been making everything from lavender-scented bracelets to lavender-flavored honey for eight years.
“What lavender does is it relaxes you and it de-stresses you,” Loveless Lavender owner Maria Loveless said.
In addition to the array of lavender products, Lovemore Lavender Farm offers a tea room and a pick-your-own lavender field at their farm. They also have a field that customers can rent specifically for Insta-worthy photoshoots.
The farm, founded in the 1940s, has existed for four generations, but the Loveless family hasn’t always sold lavender. In the past, they grew tobacco and vegetables. They switched to lavender to distinguish their company.
“Everybody does vegetables,” Loveless said. “We wanted to do something different.”
Two Acre Farm
For Nicole Olson, the owner of Two Acre Farm, family and farming go together. She and her husband bought a farm 18 years ago, right before her first son was born. Ever since, her whole family has worked on the farm, including her two teenage sons.
In addition to farming together, the family sells their products together. Olson owns the stand next door at the market, called The Brinery at Two Acre Farm. It sells pickles, while Two Acre farm sells vegetables and salsa. Her sons often join her at the market to help manage the booths.
Olson has been coming to the Bethesda farmers market for over 15 years, and says that the community aspect of farmers markets is what makes her love farming.
“They have seen my kids grow up and I’ve seen their kids grow up,” Olson said. “The camaraderie is awesome.”