Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Those nice cashiers at your Safeway don’t actually grow the produce they ring up. So it’s no surprise that suburbanites crave a link to the land offered any given weekend via farmers markets.

Arlington, which already boasts six such weekly fresh food fests, would expand to a seventh on the fertile soil of the Westover neighborhood-if activist John Reeder wins the day.

“The Falls Church Saturday farmers market is getting so busy that our neighbors would like to have something closer here on Sundays,” says Reeder, a retired economist and former Green Party candidate for the County Board. “The Falls Church market also has reached its maximum of farmers it can host, so we could add space for farmers who are excluded.”
Reeder’s vision, which he says is backed by Westover merchants, would start with 20 farmer-vendors on McKinley St., on the grounds and parking lots of the Reed School/Westover Library. He and 25 fellow enthusiasts foresee the market as being open on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., supervised by a new nonprofit created with civic associations. The newly renovated Reed, he says, was designed with a front plaza and sidewalks with just such a use in mind.

This November, Reeder won verbal approval from the School Board, which has jurisdiction over the Reed property.

But there’s a snag. “The county zoning staff has indicated they will not issue a use permit until after an elaborate change in the county ordinance pertaining to farmers markets,” Reeder says. Officials asked for detailed plans that require the blessing of school board and superintendent. “The staff told us it will likely not be till September or later this year before we could get a use permit,” Reeder says. “That means essentially there will be no Westover farmers market in 2011.”

Assistant deputy county manager Hunter Moore, who’s worked with Reeder for two years, told me the county is all for more farmers markets. The problem is Reed School has withheld permission, and its plaza, he says, is not laid out suitably for a market.

Arlington’s existing farmer’s markets-at Courthouse, Ballston, Clarendon, Rosslyn, Columbia Pike and Crystal City-were created after passage of a 2001 ordinance permitting “open-air markets.” Reeder says a citizens group at the time recommended allowing schools as sites for farmers markets, but the county confined the permits to commercial areas. This may change.
The thriving Falls Church farmers market-whose overhead banner on Lee Highway beckons motorists of all food persuasions-would be little affected by a new mercantile at Westover, according to Howard Herman, the just-retired impresario of the market for the Little City. “The challenge for Westover will be to find producers who are not already over-committed on Sundays,” he told me.

A few Westover neighbors are concerned about added car traffic. But Reeder thinks it would be minimal. Many customers will arrive on foot, and there are 100 parking places in the vicinity, he says.

The once-sleepy Westover crossroads, with its spanking new library and hipster beer garden, is emerging as a social hub for inside-the Beltway adventurers. I suspect it could handle a new line-up of down-home folks selling just-picked squash, local tomatoes, homemade apple butter and somebody-else’s-kitchen-made pies.

The market might re-route a few busy passers-by who decide to get back to the land on a lark.


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com