Photo of a flyer at the White House Farmer's Market advertising double coupons offered.
Photo by Jon Howell.

Eating healthy with local food stamps is now easier at the White House 

Citizens with meager means cannot live on Doritos alone. Freshfarm has come to the rescue with a new farmers’ market which is not simply in your average D.C. food desert, but in the heart of the city: a block from the White House.  

A local-food advocate working in the name of nutrition, sustainability and taste, Freshfarm opened its first market in Dupont Circle in 1997. Adding markets at a rate of nearly one per year, Freshfarm established this post at 810 Vermont Ave. in 2009.  

The White House market is also part of a growing movement to enable recipients of federal supplemental food benefits to make purchases at farmers’ markets.  

Here, not only can one use EBT Food Stamps, WIC “Get Fresh” checks and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Coupons to pay for a purchase, but Freshfarm will match it up to $10 each week as part of its Double Dollars incentive. The offer is not going unused.  

People buy okra with food stamps at the White House Farmers’ Market, one of many produce items. Photo by Jon Howell.

“In the past hour we’ve had five people,” said Carmen Wong, a Freshfarm volunteer. She added that as the market began at 3 p.m., she expects the rate to increase, especially for the last hour, when most people would be off work.  

Customers tell volunteers at the Freshfarm tent, between the Gunpowder Bison and Keswick Creamery tents, how much they want to spend, then are given tokens of an equivalent amount which can be used at the tents of Toigo, Endless Summer and Blueberry Hill farms.  

Ms. Wong described one mother, “She’ll come with her $10 of coupons, then we double that, and she plans her weekly menu around her purchases here.”  

For newer customers, she will usually ask them what they are interested in buying, then guide them around the market to show them what their options are.  

The location, within view of the White House and all its tourists, is uncannily located. Since coming to Washington, First Lady Michelle Obama took the lead role in an administration wide initiative of promoting a healthy diet and exercise for all Americans, especially to combat childhood obesity. She planted the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s, started the “Let’s Move!” program and worked with chefs who emphasize food that is healthy, local and sustainable. The Obamas’ personal chef Sam Kass is interviewing with CNN, a bald man in chef’s whites.  

A woman, one of the dozens of Golden Triangle businessfolk browsing, calls out to her friend, “How much are they? Oh, how much are those peaches?” in the same disbelieving, joking tone of voice one might use to a shopping buddy when saying, “Those shoes are what percentage off? For real? Uh-uh, we’re getting these, oh yes we are.”  

He tells her what a steal these supple, succulent peaches are, adding, “Man, I can’t stand hard fruit; just get rid of it. That’s the American in me. I don’t want it. Just throw it away.”  

In addition to the produce, vendors here are offering such finished foods as breads and salsas. A man at a stand offers samples of radical sorbets, like Vodka Mint Pea and Lemon Opal Basil.  

Sam Kass is still around. The interview is over and he’s practicing what he preaches, standing in line with a bag of vegetables at the Endless Summer tent. Inching over to look at the apples near him, he talks to one of the CNN producers. “I’m a little cautious of playing the expert,” he confides.  

Nearby at Spring Valley, a man in a blue striped shirt and brown slacks murmurs in wonder to himself, “Squash blossoms…”