Residents who live around the 14th and Kennedy Street Farmer's Market (located on Saturday mornings on the 5500 block of Colorado Ave NW) met last night to talk about some concerns that have been raised among residents.
I didn't get an exact headcount, but it was a crowded event of around 40 or 50 people in the basement of 1365 Kennedy St NW. All the residents were local and from (in order of what I heard) Colorado Ave, 13th Street, Jefferson, Longfellow, Nicholson, Kennedy and 16th Street. The meeting went really well, was very low-key and was a great example of people getting together to talk through concerns.
What was apparent was that almost everyone, even those expressing concerns, had positive things to say about the market. The meeting was run by two of the Market's volunteers, Emily Cohen and Audrey Nwanze (from the Community Alliance for Upper 14th Street). Other notables in attendance were Khalil Thompson, the Mayor's Ward 4 liaison, Brenda Donald, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Matthew Marcou, DDOT's Deputy Associate Director, responsible for public spaces, ANC 4C01 Commissioner Taalib-Din Uqdah and Pedro Rubio, president of the 16th Street Heights Civic Association.
The topics that were raised as concerns at last night's meeting were noise, parking considerations and the lack of notification about the market itself. Each were addressed by the market volunteers who ran the meeting and overall seemed to mollify the residents who shared those concerns.
It's completely understandable that people who normally have parked on Colorado are now annoyed at the inconvenience of moving their cars (or face a ticket or worse, towing). However, the counter arguments are compelling: residents have to similarly move their cars twice a week to accommodate street cleaning or face penalties, and parking remains pretty open along side streets, according to neighbors. As expressed by residents at the meeting and on other online forums, any inconvenience is outweighed by the benefits of having a farmer's market in the neighborhood offering fresh food. Of course, that sounds great unless it's your car. "People will get used to it," one resident said. "We're used to the street cleaning rules."
One resident said that the doctor's office on the corner of 14th Street (Dr. Marilyn McPherson-Corder, I believe) is willing to offer access to its parking lot to residents who need to move their cars on Friday night. Since that doctor wasn't at the meeting, hopefully someone from the market or the residents on Colorado will follow up on this offer. That could alleviate some of the stress of where to park.
The other big concern raised was regarding lack of notification. A few residents commented that they didn't know about the market until it opened. The volunteer committee working on the project wasn't sure the Market was going to get permits until 2 days prior to opening. "We didn't want to put the word out about the market in case the permits didn't come through," Emily Cohen explained.
"It wasn't a perfect process," she said. "But we're learning."
I think this was an obvious ball-drop on the part of the market organizing committee, and is a good learning opportunity for future markets: make sure you notify, and where possible, have as much buy-in and acceptance from neighbors as you can. It seems most of the people upset about the parking, or about the sudden appearance of the market would have been happy to support the market if they knew about it ahead of time.
Another volunteer, Sarah, mentioned that a survey had been conducted among residents, and they had tried to reach out via the listservs and leaving flyers. "We can't reach everyone," she said. "Unless you were online and spoke English, it was difficult for us to reach out at first."
One resident mentioned that the flyer she received was only in English. The volunteers said that flyers that have gone out recently telling neighbors about the Market are in English and Spanish. They asked the people attending to help reach other residents who still may not be aware of the market, are not online or not on the listservs. "We don't have much money for communications," Emily said.
Since some people are not online, one resident suggested that the flyers offer a phone number to call with questions. (Note to the Market staff -- get a Google Voice number, much easier to share among a larger group.)
Other concerns about the market have been shared on local listservs, via email and two forum threads on Popville (the initial one about some residents' and an ANC commissioner's misgivings, and the follow-up repost of the meeting announcement). I haven't seen the commissioner's emails about the market, but they're quoted on the forums; grain of salt, Popville allows anonymous comments, and they can get negative or be unsubstantiated.
One of the accusations mentioned on the forum threads included this comment saying the problem is "gentrification and millennials moving into mostly black neighborhoods wanting to take control disrespecting long time residents" (by user "Larry on 16th and Colorado").
The reaction on the forums has been that this shouldn't be and isn't a race or socio-economic issue. It's not a "long-term resident" vs "new resident" issue, it's about bringing fresh food into the community. Anyone and everyone is welcome at the market. Residents talked about the benefits of meeting neighbors at the market and access to quality food. This topic was not raised by any attendee at the meeting.
"The market is a good way to meet people," said one resident, Allison Gallaway. "But it's even better for me to be able to walk there with my son, introduce him to real farmers and good food." That sentiment was repeated multiple times by different people.
One resident said, "I started my first herb garden because of the market, and it's still alive! I credit the market for that."
Like any farmer's market, prices can be high from some of the vendors. One resident mentioned his displeasure with paying $4 for a pastry and $10 for organic apples. Emily mentioned that there are different kinds of vendors, some selling organic produce, pesticide-free and "regular," and that the prices reflected that. (I think people should tell a vendor if the prices are too high; we do live in a capitalist economy after all -- if you don't buy, they either have to lower prices or stop selling.) For those who have nutritional assistance from the city, the market accepts WIC and SNAP (as does the Petworth Community Market). So whether they're paying in cash or WIC, residents have access to fresh food at a higher quality than they're likely to find at Walmart or Safeway.
Brenda Donald, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, said that DC has a commitment to ensure 75% of the district's residents live within a quarter mile of fresh food, and this market aligns well with the city goals. (I believe she mentioned that she lives in the area and also enjoyed the market.)
The "Why here?" and "Why Colorado" questions were raised a few times. Along with the volunteers from the market, DDOT's office of Planning, the Kennedy Street Development Association (KSDA) and the Community Alliance for Upper 14th Street (CAUFS) were involved in finding the location for the market. Other locations than Colorado were looked at, but none offered residents the convenience or had other problems to using them.
One other interesting note that came out at the meeting: apparently DDOT is planning on closing the offshoot of Colorado that turns off onto 14th Street and will expand the triangular park immediately to the south (see yellow line in the map below). I don't have any details on this but will share if I can get more.
Below is a gallery from the meeting. Enlarge the photos and scroll through them to see descriptions.