BY LINDSAY MYERS — The Hyattsville Farmers Market opens on Tuesday, June 6, with a little bit of sweetness. In addition to its usual spread of produce, bread, and meats, this year’s opening day will also feature all things strawberry in what Ellarose Preston, the market manager, has dubbed “The Strawberry Soiree.”
Over the course of the afternoon, visitors can check out a couple of strawberry-themed food demonstrations, participate in a tasting or two, and leave the event with a fistful of strawberry-based recipe cards. Preston also has a few other sweet surprises up her sleeve, like strawberry ice cream cones for the first one hundred guests, a life-size dancing strawberry, and maybe even a contest for the “Strawberry Crown.”
“I’m still working out the details, but I like to keep things interesting,” Preston said, grinning.
The Administrative Support and Wellness Programs Coordinator for the city, Preston has been organizing the Hyattsville Farmers Market for the last four years. Hyattsville’s market is the oldest in the county and Preston makes an effort to keep it fresh and updated each year. She designates certain days of the summer by special themes, arranges free tai-chi or yoga lessons at the market once a month, and does her best to book food trucks and other prepared food vendors so that residents can enjoy a meal as they shop. She said her goal is to make the market a Tuesday night tradition for Hyattsville residents: a place where they can grab a meal, enjoy the company of their neighbors, and most importantly, stock up on fresh, healthy food for the week.
“The Hyattsville market continues to lead with regard to ensuring that residents have access to fresh, healthy, and nutritious food. And it’s a buy-local situation, so you also get to stimulate the local economy by supporting local food vendors and farmers,” said Preston.
Preston has been passionate about providing greater access to fresh food since she started managing the market. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Prince George’s County is home to several “food deserts,” meaning that at least 20 percent of residents live in poverty and 33 percent live over a mile from a supermarket. The recent popularity of farmers markets over the last decade has helped to ease food scarcity in places like Hyattsville, providing residents with weekly opportunities to access produce and meats at the same price point as a grocery store.
Last year, thanks to Preston’s innovative approach, the Hyattsville market was the first in the nation to collaborate with Share Our Strength, Cooking Matters, a DC nonprofit that educates low-income families on eating well on a budget. The market received a $5,000 grant to provide market-goers with a free $10 voucher to use at the market. This year, Cooking Matters awarded Preston $7,000 for the season, which allows the city to distribute an additional 200 vouchers.
After running out of vouchers in previous years, Preston is looking forward to serving more residents with the extra money. To receive a voucher, guests simply stop by the city tent and request one. They’ll be taken on a nutrition tour of the market and shown what items are available that week, how they can be prepared, and how they fit into the USDA MyPlate schematic, which emphasizes a balanced mix of grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein at every meal. The tours take about 10 minutes and start on the 15-minute mark of every hour. Anyone is eligible for the tour and voucher, regardless of income.
“The tours are open to everybody. That means people with a lot of money, a little bit of money, people on assistance, and people who are undocumented and so not eligible for federal assistance. It’s for everyone this year. Who doesn’t need 10 extra dollars? It’s all about access to good food,” said Preston.
Ideally, Preston wants to see 300 people at the market every week. She talked about the difficulty of the location at 3799 East-West Highway, which is visible, but not necessarily walkable. “Every year I think it gets a little better, so that’s good,” said Preston, “but these things take time and we’d really like to see more people come out.”
Preston is hoping that some of the new vendors this year might draw bigger crowds. She has two wineries booked on a rotating basis and big plans for a July 18 Peach Fest and Aug. 15 Health and Wellness Day, where residents can come and get free screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, HIV, and even dental care.
With less than a week to prepare, Preston said she is feeling the pressure of opening day, but she is also excited about another summer of Tuesday evenings spent amidst the smell of freshly baked bread and ears of corn, just peeled from their skins. Seeing the residents of her city come together every week, she said, reminds her that the pressure is worth it.
“At the end of the day, the market is for our people, our community. It’s for you.”
The Hyattsville Market runs from 3 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday, June 6 – Sept. 26, at 3799 East–West Highway. Visit hyattsville.org for more details. For vendor inquiries call 301-985-5006 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.