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Upstaging the tomatoes at D.C.'s newest farmers market

September 16, 2009 |  2:29 pm

It may be hard to pay much attention to the produce, meat or breads for sale at Washington, D.C.'s newest farmers market when it opens Thursday afternoon. Shoppers -- maybe even the vendors -- are likely to be on the lookout for some star shoppers: the Obama family.

Eighteen farmers and producers will set up the market outside the White House grounds, north of Lafayette Park, on Vermont Avenue between H and I streets.

"It would be wonderful" if the Obamas came to shop, says Ann Yonkers, co-director of FreshFarm Markets, a nonprofit organization that will run it. "But we're not counting on it."

The idea developed over time, Yonkers says. Her organization was excited about the garden planted at the White House earlier this year, she says, adding that  she was introduced to Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and a former personal chef for the Obamas by another chef, Nora Pouillon. "We began thinking, 'Wouldn't it be great ...,' " Yonkers says.

The White House garden "became such a great symbol for growing your own and paying attention to what you eat," she says.

The new market will sell meats, cheeses, produce, baked goods, flowers and preserves. Vendors accept food stamps and WIC and senior citizen coupons, FreshFarm Markets says. It will run Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. through Oct. 29.

The Obamas have made their support of farm-fresh food apparent. First Lady Michelle Obama worked in the White House garden with a group of elementary school students, and she has talked about a nutritious diet as an important way to fight obesity.

In August, President Obama told a healthcare forum, “One of the things that we’re trying to do now is to figure out, can we get a little farmers market -- outside of the White House.’’

Has any farmers market gotten the sort of attention the new White House market is getting? "Not one of ours," says Pat Lute, publicist for FreshFarm Markets, which runs eight markets in Washington, D.C.,  and Maryland. The first opened in 1997.

Still, Yonkers says she hopes it's primarily a good source of income for the farmers and producers who take part. And a good resource for its customers.

And customers are likely to be in abundance Thursday. There's a Metro stop nearby, as well as offices for the Treasury, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Export-Import Bank.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Michelle Obama and students at the White House garden. Credit: Associated Press