UPPER MARLBORO – The smell of baked corn tortillas stuffed with piping hot beans and melted cheese could stop any of the hungry commuters driving by the busy crossroads intersection of Takoma Park.
The pupusa, a signature Salvadoran dish often cooked with chicken, fried pork rinds, squash, herbs or hot peppers, will emerge from immigrant homes and roadside stands to join other ethnic foods at a new downtown farmers’ market that will feature produce and preparations that migrated here along with their native cooks.
The Crossroads Farmers Market, to open June 6, is a project undertaken by the coordinators of the Takoma Park Farmers Market to encourage locally-produced foods sold by immigrant and minority growers in the area. Both markets also will be the first two farmers’ markets in Maryland to accept food stamp cards.
The new market will also feature locally-grown fresh seasonal produce such as squash, tomatoes, carrots, Asian cabbage, bok choy, various hot peppers and herbs, cilantro and garlic. In summer, expect to see corn, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, and scallions.
“We’re trying to create a market that features local foods but has an international flavor,” said Michele Thornett, project coordinator of the new market, who said that it will better reflect the diversity of the people in the city and surrounding area, where there is a growing population of immigrants from countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. “We hope the varieties of vegetables will be different from the ones here.”
“Even though they’re only two miles away from each other,” said Thornett of the two markets, “they’re worlds apart in terms of demographic. There are different customers here.”
The coordinators have not yet announced the approved vendors for the new market. The process will continue until mid-April, but the market is nearly at capacity, with six approved farmers, one baker and one prepared food vendor.
Camile Brou, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast, hopes to be one of about a dozen vendors to put their produce on sale at the market this June, despite the unexpected spring snowfall and April showers.
Brou carries his tools in a donated, blue, Chevrolet van and spends around 10 to 15 hours a week around his day job to till his one-and-a-half acre farm on Woodyard Road in Upper Marlboro.
The land, which he rents for $200 a year from a local church, is budding with new greens.
“In my country we never use fertilizer,” said the farmer, who does not believe in using artificial products or special irrigation to grow his corn, beans, watermelon and various peppers. “The soil here is naturally damp and fertile.”
Brou leans over to inspect the two-inch bean leaves sprouting from neat, 30-yard-long rows, nodding in approval with their progress. He is confident they will be ready by mid-summer.
“Farming is very competitive,” said Brou, who said competing in a farmer’s market will motivate local producers to focus more on quality and prove that they are the best in production.
Both markets will begin accepting Electronic Benefit Transfers, or food stamp cards, according to Margarita Maisterrena, public affairs officer for the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services Mid-Atlantic Region. Shoppers may use their bank cards and food stamp cards via a wireless debit system.
The market will open Wednesday afternoons in a public enclosed service area by the parking lot of an office building at 7676 New Hampshire Ave., near the bustling “crossroads” intersection where New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard intersect. The owners of the lot have granted their permission to set up the project, and offered their parking area for patrons, free of charge.
“We’re not charging, but expect the operational burdens (organization and clean-up) to be handled by the market,” said Neel Teague of Stout and Teague, the company that owns the property.
Much of the funding for the market comes from grants from Project for Public Spaces and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The new market will help immigrant farmers as well as the local community, said Brou, by influencing socio-economic development, diversifying agricultural produce and encouraging an exchange of ideas and culture.
“If I could not communicate with my landlord, I would not have my land,” said Brou. “Without communication, even if I have money, I could not eat at the restaurant. Communication goes beyond the world to be the key of sustaining any project.”