Going To Market: Hyattsville Farmers Market helps low-income families eat well

A fresh produce display at the Hyattsville Farmers Market. The market will open June 7.

LindsayMyersHeadshot (1)BY LINDSAY MYERS — Ellarose Preston, the woman behind the Hyattsville Farmers Market, has a lot on her plate. Since January 1, the city’s Administrative Support and Wellness Programs Coordinator has been working tirelessly to prepare for the market’s opening day. She has to book vendors, collect permits, cut checks, apply for grants, and prepare marketing materials, all while managing the other health and wellness programs for the city. Chuckling, Preston emphasized that preparing for the 17-week season is, “a lot of work. … a lot of work.”

Despite the many phone calls, emails, and forms, Preston is passionate about the market because she, and her colleagues, see it as a way to serve those in need. “The city wants to ensure that our community, our residents, especially those that are low income, have access to nutritious, healthy food, and that’s the bottom line. It’s not to make money,” she said.

In fact, in the three years that Preston has been running the market, it still has yet to turn a profit. But Preston said she would have to change a lot about how the market is organized for it to financially benefit the city and that just is not the goal.

“Our market is special in that our focus is on access to nutritious and healthy food. We’re going to show you some new types of fruits and veggies, show you how to prepare them, and then send you home with recipes and free samples.”

Preston herself runs a “food demonstration” each market, collecting items from each vendor and then demonstrating how to turn them into a healthy dish. The tradition, Preston claims, has caught on at other markets in the area. “I’m always trying to keep ahead of the other folks,” Preston said.

Under Preston’s guidance, the Hyattsville market was also the first farmers market in the nation to work with the DC nonprofit Share Our Strength’s program, Cooking Matters, which aims to teach low-income families across the country how to eat better for less. Preston applied for a $5,000 grant with the program to provide each low-income family with $10 to spend at the market.  “Market goers just need to show proof that they receive federal nutrition assistance by showing their EBT Card, WIC pamphlets, or SNAP fruit and veggie checks to me at our city tent,” Preston said. “Then we give them two $5 coupons to use with any vendor at the market.”

Preston had the idea to provide low-income families with $10 of “money matching” coupons during the 2015 season, but the city was only able to budget $2500 for the program. “By six o’clock I had usually run out, which was hard. I didn’t want to have to deny anyone,” said Preston.  With the additional funding from Cooking Matters, Preston is excited to make the market affordable for more low-income families.  

June 7 marks the 25th season of the Hyattsville Farmers Market, and Preston is working hard to make it special. She has dubbed opening day of the market “The Strawberry Soiree” and has asked each vendor to feature strawberries in a special way. Preston will provide visitors with strawberry-based recipes, one of which she will prepare during her food demonstration. The market’s youngest visitors will walk away with strawberry balloons and coloring books.

Assigning themes, featuring new vendors, and even offering free yoga sessions are just a few of the ways Preston is trying to draw a crowd to the market. She has a goal of attracting 300 people every week. “We want this to be the place to be on Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.,” said Preston. “The take-home is that it’s a great market. We have a lot of personality, and the city is working hard to make it a good experience for everybody.” With Preston’s efforts to make the market affordable and inviting, this season is sure to be the best yet.

The Hyattsville Market runs from 3 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday, June 7 – Sept. 27, at 3799 East–West Highway. Visit hyattsville.org for more details.