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When Thinking About the Front Page, Don't Forget the Back Yard

The food community in Washington, D.C., has been abuzz over the Michelle Obama-backed plan to open a farmers' market near the White House, starting Thursday. Powerful imagery, that: Think of the photos, with mounds of rosy tomatoes and peaches against that alabaster abode! Certainly a symbol of this administration’s commitment to sustainable agriculture, building off FLOTUS’s veggie garden on the lawn.

Hang on, though. Other than the Obamas, pretty much nobody lives around Lafayette Park, where the new market is slated to open. Sure, it will operate on a weekday afternoon, when staffers will be able to pick up produce on their way home from work (like the popular Penn Quarter market, open on Wednesdays). But to have maximum beneficial impact, shouldn’t a new market go into one of the vast areas of the D.C. where fresh peaches are few and far between? The neighborhoods, like Trinidad and Anacostia, where comparatively well-off White House staffers will never have a reason to travel?

Curious, I mapped all the District farmers markets, as comprehensively as possible (this list plus a couple others). To those from outside the Beltway, the areas with the fewest blue placemarkers are also the poorest; Eastern Market and Ward 8 are basically the only ones in Southeast, and there are currently none operating in Petworth, up north. If the Obamas are serious about food equity, they should look beyond their own front yard.

That said, looking at the map again, it does appear that the Ellipse is one of the larger areas without any farmers markets. And unlike Petworth, it doesn’t have a Yes! Organic Market, or a Whole Foods, or even a Safeway within easy walking distance. In fact, the White House is starting to look like a “food desert,” like those in inner cities all around America, except served only by white-linen restaurants and pretzel trucks. Perhaps Michelle should be selling it as such!