In the summer of 2012, on a bright sunny day, Chris Bradshaw, founder and executive director of Dreaming Out Loud, Inc., had just placed down a yard sign on the grounds of Christ United Methodist Church advertising a farmers market project he had hoped to get off the ground. He had just turned the corner when he suddenly heard a loud whacking sound.
At first Chris couldn’t imagine that someone would be hitting the freshly placed sign, but as he rounded the corner that’s just what he found. The culprit was none other than Khalil: a 10-year-old boy. Chris gently approached Khalil and jokingly asked if he had something against vegetables. The boy blushed with embarrassment as his friends laughed. Chris then asked him to return to the church next week along with his friends to be a part of a farmers market that would begin on the grounds of the church.
The group of boys, along with several other children, showed up at 8:00 a.m. every Saturday for 18 weeks to learn how to set up, break down, and run the farmers market known as Aya Community Markets. The youths, who started as pre-teens, are now high school students and have been joined by several others working in the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program as “youth urban farmer associates.” Working from Dreaming Out Loud’s organic garden at Blind Whino, the youths learn about food systems, entrepreneurship, and community service. Funds generated from the market are plowed back into the garden program, making it a unique social enterprise.
Aya Community Markets, now located at the Square at Waterfront Station (425 M St. SW), takes place every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and is poised to grow into one of the city’s favorite farmers markets. Joining the market at its new location is Crazy Farm, a 20-acre family farm from Westmoreland County, Virginia, that has been with Dreaming Out Loud since their first market in Southwest back in 2012. Along with Crazy Farm are other farmers and vendors who provide farm fresh eggs, grass-fed meat, baked goods, olive oil products, prepared foods, and more.
Aside from bringing local farmers and vendors to the SW community, a key component of Aya Community Markets is to make fresh, local produce affordable for all. To make this happen, the market has collaborated with the DC Department of Health’s Produce Plus Program, which allows any DC resident receiving SNAP, WIC, CSFP, Medicaid, SSI, or TANF benefits to get $10 per family/market/week to spend on fresh fruit and vegetables at various DC farmers markets. Dreaming Out Loud was also influential in helping to pass this legislation and is looking forward to providing SW families, seniors, and low-income community members access to affordable, fresh, and local produce.
Sona Karia, SW resident and member of the SW Community Garden, recently signed up to volunteer for the Farmers Market Brigade, which will help organizations like Dreaming Out Loud to implement the Produce Plus Program at markets.
Ms. Karia says that “what sets the Aya Community Markets apart from other markets I’ve been to is that they are more than just a place to get produce.” As a social enterprise, the goal is to utilize the food system to create healthy communities and sustainable employment for low-income community members.
Ms. Karia continues, stating “they are truly invested in improving nutrition across all socioeconomic statuses in SW by bringing in various programs to the market. That means the world to me and I want to do all I can to support them.” We hope that the entire SW community will feel the same way!