MARKET SQUARE IN Alexandria, Virginia, is home to one of the longest operating farmers markets in the United States. Residents have shopped there for fresh, local food since 1753, when George Washington sent seasonal harvests from his nearby Mount Vernon farm to be sold. Early on Saturday mornings year-round, residents from the surrounding neighborhoods head to the market carrying flattened canvas bags and wheeling empty wire carts. From Royal, King, and Fairfax Streets, shoppers enter a brick-paved public plaza covered with numerous colorful pop-up canopies and umbrellas as they wind their way through a maze of tables that overflow with vegetables, fruits, flowers, and handmade goods (see image 4.1). When I first visited in 2007, I was struck by the huge square water fountain in the center of the plaza reflecting the colors and shapes of vendors’ displays. I was also impressed by the way the brick steps, which link the large terraces, were integrated into vendors’ displays and imparted uniqueness to the ubiquitous pop-up canopies and umbrellas. In contrast to these transitory collapsible assemblies, I noted that the permanence and materiality of the brick floor and surrounding brick buildings contributed to an enduring sense of place for this temporally circumscribed but long-ago established market.
Alexandria’s City Hall anchors the physical boundary along Market Square’s entire northern edge. Three-, four-, and five-story buildings occupied by shops and restaurants at the ground level with offices and residences on the upper levels flank the south, east, and west sides of the square. Situated in Alexandria’s Old Town neighborhood, this civic plaza sits just three blocks from historic docks on the Potomac River (see image 4.2). The city prides itself on the continuous operation of the market in the same location for over 265 years; markets of this type often do not sustain enough momentum to survive season-to-season, let alone for almost three centuries.
What makes markets like Alexandria’s unique is their portability and adaptability to the particulars of any situation. I call these “pop-up canopy markets.” In many urban locations, the same vendors habitually move from one location to another within a city on a daily and/or weekly basis. Pop-up canopy markets have a minimal physical presence and leave little trace of their existence on off days; often, only a small municipal sign with the market’s hours denotes its footprint. In some instances, there are brightly colored banners with information on the farmers market attached to light posts or to the exterior of buildings adjacent to where they assemble. As is the case in Alexandria, pop-up canopy markets customarily rely on the stature of, and civic symbiosis with, surrounding buildings to provide identity, viability, and therefore, longevity for each market location.
Most vendors use the fabric-covered, four-legged pop-up canopy structures because they shield their displays from the sun and rain while being easy to erect and collapse. Large canvas umbrellas are also stationed singly or in clusters for additional protection for goods and people from all kinds of weather. To display their produce and goods, vendors use lightweight, portable tables, shelving, and stackable bins similar to those typically used in open-air pavilion markets. Most vendors use only one pop-up canopy, although some configure three tables in a U shape beneath two pop-up canopies. Banners and small signs disclosing the farm name and location hang most often from the rear of the pop-up canopy (see image 4.3). The unique composition of the vendors’ inventory provides a distinct identity for their stands in contrast to the sameness of their structural components.
The location of pop-up canopy markets is often dictated by the needs of shoppers. Typically they are positioned in places where people visit or pass through routinely via multiple modes of transportation including mass transit, car, bike, and walking. In most cities, they are situated in prominent plazas adjacent to landmark buildings, in parks or along a street. Other pop-up canopy markets are located in parking lots that are centrally positioned in a neighborhood or downtown and both can be publically and privately owned. In this manner, elementary and secondary schools, youth and senior centers, and YMCAs extend their role as community gathering places.
In Chicago, many of the same vendors assemble to form farmers markets in multiple locations throughout the city on varying days of the week: on Tuesdays, in the plaza in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art; on Thursdays, in Federal Plaza adjacent to the US Post Office; and on Saturdays, along two blocks of Division Street, a main thoroughfare in the Gold Coast neighborhood (see image 4.4 and 4.5). My husband and I shopped at the Saturday pop-up canopy market on Division Street for over ten years, but if I needed something during the week I could walk to one of the other locations (knowing which vendors would be selling what I needed on that particular day). At the south end of Lincoln Park, over fifty pop-up canopies comprise Green City Market on Saturdays from June through October. From November to May, during Chicago’s blustery winters, it moves indoors to nearby Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and boasts twenty-five vendors. Since its founding in 1998, local chefs have come to consider Green City Market their “go-to” place for traditional produce such as green beans, red potatoes, and cherry tomatoes as well as rarer heirloom specialties (see image 4.6). Several of the market’s farmers grow or raise food specifically for the city’s premier restaurants. Paul Virant, chef at Vie, says, “Sourcing locally was one of the major missions of Vie when we started. I had some connections with a few farmers. I had worked with Paul Kahan at Blackbird, and there was a whole set of farmers he worked with…now over the course of the year, we work with forty farmers.”1 Virant illustrates yet another example of farmers markets’ capacity to create a sense of community even in large cities.
In Washington, DC, eight farmers markets of this type operate under the leadership of FRESHFARM, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build and strengthen the local, sustainable food movement in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Throughout the week in the Capitol region, temporary pop-up canopies appear at their appointed times in or nearby the city’s renowned civic places. FRESHFARM has set up on Sundays in Dupont Circle, a landmark traffic roundabout and Metro stop, since 1997. During peak season, the market hosts more than forty vendors who offer foods and goods such as fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, cheeses, fruit pies, breads, fresh pasta, cut flowers, potted plants, soaps, and herbal products. In 2003 FRESHFARM opened its second location in Penn Quarter, followed by another one in 2004 in the heart of the once-again thriving historic district identified with H Street, NE. Similarly, in the famous neighborhood of Georgetown its farmers market has set up pop-up canopies at the entry plaza of the Foggy Bottom Metro stop on Wednesdays since 2005. FRESHFARM opened a new market adjacent to another prominent DC landmark, the White House, in 2009. Former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the opening of the Thursday pop-up canopy market, where she declared, “Markets are about more than food, they are also about creating better communities.”2 In recent years FRESHFARM continues to expand its reach—opening pop-up canopy markets in 2013 in the Mt. Vernon Triangle and most recently at City Center in a new park between metro stops at Gallery Place and Metro Center. In all, FRESHFARM operates thirteen farmers markets in Virginia, Maryland, and DC that draw over 360,00 shoppers annually.
More and more frequently it seems, pop-up canopies are becoming regular fixtures at established heritage markets and open-air pavilion markets as vendor spaces within these structures become filled to capacity. Often, these additional vendors are small, local growers who offer more in the way of seasonal foods and goods. At Washington, DC’s Eastern Market and at Cincinnati’s Findlay Market, pop-up canopies form clusters along adjacent streets, transforming them into festival-like pedestrian promenades on market days (see image 4.7).
In this chapter I take an in-depth look at three pop-up canopy markets that all use public parking areas as their platform. On market days the parking garage and lots they occupy gain a civic function, turning otherwise utilitarian public spaces into places of community gathering. All three markets are located in Virginia: Alexandria’s is the oldest; Charlottesville’s is unusually situated on a sloped parking lot in the center of town, and Staunton’s is adjacent to the train tracks along the southern edge of its downtown. Despite the lack of permanent buildings, these pop-up canopy markets maintain their identity and thrive because they are places of community gathering as well as sustenance.
During the farmers market’s absence on weekdays, Alexandria’s Market Square serves as the entrance to City Hall. The square sits atop an underground parking garage, which would probably be empty on Saturdays if not for the market. On Saturdays, the assemblage of over a hundred pop-up canopies and umbrellas transforms the municipal plaza into a social and economic hub of residents and tourists sharing the pleasures of fresh food and camaraderie.
In contrast to Market Square’s terraced brick-paved surface, Charlottesville’s City Market sits atop a sloping asphalt parking lot, which necessitates that its vendors use numerous small blocks and devices to level their pop-up canopies and tables for display. Despite its resting place in a parking lot as opposed to a historic building, the market still has ties to the city’s history—it’s only a block away from East Main Street’s pedestrian mall in historic downtown. Locals who consider the famers market a treasured institution have recently won a decade-old battle opposing those who wish to move the market to another location in order to develop the current location for significant economic gain. City Council approved a design and development proposal for Market Place in late 2015, but construction has yet to begin.
Like Alexandria’s market, Staunton’s also has historical significance; the government used the market house throughout the late eighteen hundreds for Virginia’s Democratic and Republican conventions. Unfortunately, the building no longer exists; the farmers market’s sheer presence in the historic Wharf District, however, has significantly driven the downtown area’s revitalization since its origins in 1993.
This chapter presents pop-up canopy markets through examination of their architectural and urban design features at the eight scales of interaction and interface outlined in the book’s introduction. The most distinctive type of interface for this market occurs at the scale of gathering a half-dozen pop-up canopies in an area of fifty to seventy-five feet; this type of market gains success as its number of vendors increases. Pop-up canopy markets also gain identity through the stature of the market’s location—its situation within neighborhoods, mixed-use districts, or downtown. The temporary nature of their existence only adds to their stimulating atmosphere.
Old Towne Farmers Market in Alexandria has had several configurations over its two and a half centuries of existence in the heart of Alexandria. Farmers originally sold out of their wagons parked adjacent to the town hall and courthouse. In 1817, the town built a new three-story brick building along Royal Street with market stalls situated on the first floor of the west and north wings, facing a courtyard. An extensive fire in 1871 necessitated significant rebuilding that inspired civic leaders and decision-makers to reimagine the multi-purpose structure; throughout the years, the building housed courtrooms and clerks’ offices and served as the police headquarters, the principal fire company station, and the headquarters for the Alexandria Washington Masonic Lodge. Within a week of the fire, the city administration hired distinguished architect Adolf Cluss, who had just completed Washington, DC’s Central Market in 1870, to draw up plans for the new building. Cluss “was especially noted for his technical skill and attention to building safety and strength…His design reflected his strong emphasis on safety and the new building would be constructed from brick with cast iron columns, and rolled iron beams and trusses with roofs made of metal or slate.”3 Fronting onto Cameron Street, Cluss’s new U-shaped City Hall building encompassed a courtyard opening to the south, which was filled in by subsequent additions until the mid-twentieth century.
In the late 1960s, the Gadsby Commercial Urban Renewal Project brought about the reorientation of City Hall towards its southern façade, with a new primary entrance facing King Street and the addition of an underground parking garage beneath Market Square.4 The new entrance had a central double door flanked on each side with three broad arched recesses designated for use as vendor stalls on market days. While the renovations to City Hall accommodated the farmers market at the time, today Alexandria’s premier farmers market is much larger, and by necessity it takes a different shape. The primarily pop-up canopy market sits three to six feet above encompassing streets and completely covers the rooftop plaza of an underground parking garage completed in 1967 as part of the Gadsby project.
During a return visit in 2008, I parked midway along King Street across from the wide expanse (nearly one hundred feet long) of six steps bookended by three-foot-tall and four-foot-deep brick planters filled with small trees, shrubs, and flowers spilling over the edges. Thicker, lower brick walls containing large trees flank Royal and Fairfax Streets at the western and eastern edges of the plaza, providing a park-like atmosphere and safety from passing vehicles. On that warm, sunny day, numerous people sat on the brick walls under the shade of the trees and watched the bustling market activity surrounding the spurting fountain.
On market days, shoppers can find local American folk artist Patricia Palermino set up at the top of the center set of steps in front of the fountain. She told me that she selected this location because the water basin and southern elevation of City Hall provide a picturesque backdrop for her market display when approaching from King Street. Three tables draped with red-and-white-checkered cloths showcase blue and white wicker baskets full of notecards, children’s books, and ornaments featuring her artwork. Next to the baskets sits a red metal bin full of blue aprons with her farmers market scene printed on the front. A white sign with blue lettering reads “Patricia Palermino Studio,” the text surrounded by red stars (see image 4.8). The sign hangs prominently on a vertical screen holding framed artwork sheltered by two red umbrellas adjacent to the tables.5
Palermino’s works depict annual events in Alexandria and other popular US cities and landmarks; she skillfully captures the history, tradition, character, and charisma of a place. Part of esteemed American collections, her works hang in the White House, the National Archives, and the Winterthur Museum (and she also sells them in New York galleries). Although she captures many different locations in her art, she says, “Even though my art features other cities, landscapes and seacoasts, my works of Alexandria and DC are my best sellers at the farmers market”6 (see image 4.9). During our conversation, she reflected upon the joys of selling at the market and concluded, “the Old Town Farmers Market is a festive place, a community place where people come to chat and children come to play.”7 In Palermino’s work, I see a compelling connection between the visual narrative of symbolism and whimsy, and the vivacity and magical feel of the farmers market.
Palermino is one of five framed-art vendors permitted to sell at the farmers market. Regulations established by the Alexandria City Council in 1989 also limit the number of handicraft (fifty-two), jewelry (seven), and wearable art vendors (seven); as well as the total number of vendor spots (116), but not the number of produce and food vendors.8 While “only thirty years ago the market had dwindled to a handful of farmers who sold produce to a faithful following of diehard customers,” it thrives today and even has a waiting list of want-to-be vendors.9
As the number and variety of vendors grew, so did the number and diversity of shoppers. In 2012, conservative estimates stated that more than three thousand people passed through the market from seven in the morning to noon on a typical Saturday. By 2015, the number of customers had more than doubled to nearly seven thousand during peak harvest months from July to October, and is approaching eight thousand today. Although limited-income residents make up only a small part of the increase in shoppers, the expansion of the customer base seeks to benefit these residents through intentional outreach programs. Alexandria’s SNAP EBT coordinator Sara Rhoades holds frequent public forums to explain the availability and use of the USDA’s SNAP Double Value Program at the Old Town Farmers Market. At the end of 2015 Rhoades provided me with figures regarding the success of her outreach efforts—from September 2014 through September 2015, there were 260 shoppers who took advantage of using SNAP at the market; this was a 63 percent increase over the previous year. The SNAP dollars spent at the market from January through December 2015 totaled $7,939—of which $3,634 are monies funded by the Double Dollar Program, which matches SNAP EBT redeemed at the market up to $20 per customer visit.10 Today the program’s fundraising goal is $5,000 to meet the needs of SNAP-eligible customers.
Rhoades also spearheaded other community outreach programs that supply fresh local food from the farmers market to people with limited income who cannot travel to the market. AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) featured on their blog her “Food Rescue” program that benefits a nearby senior housing complex as well as food pantries at two churches. The October 20, 2015, article provides details about how Rhoades worked with vendors, gaining their agreement to work with the program, and then organized a group of volunteers to glean these vendors’ stalls at the end of the market day, weigh their bounty, and transport it via bicycles toting small trailers five blocks north to the Annie B. Rose House, the elder residential center. Rhoades was very gratified with the results: that year the program supplied over 4,000 pounds of fresh food at no cost to the recipients. In conversation with Sara, she mentioned that the market also facilitates innovative events and activities weekly on the small stage in Market Square aimed to attract and maintain a heterogeneous customer base. These included lots of local musicians as well as free yoga and bike clinics.
Over one hundred years after the establishment of the Alexandria farmers market, an 1876 edition of the Alexandria Gazette explained why the market stays the same decade after decade: because “to sell it here you’ve got to grow it or make it at home.”11 Well over another hundred years later, the Gazette’s statement still rings true, as produce, meat, and goods sold at the market still come from nearby farms and regional producers. One strong proponent of authentic and fresh food, longtime meat vendor Tom Calhoun, has been selling at Alexandria’s farmers market since the early 1980s; his daughter Tracy has joined him for the last thirty of those years. Tom has been curing hams for most of his life, learning from his father and grandfather on the family farm in Tennessee, and perfecting his old-time recipe on his own in Culpeper, Virginia, where he opened Calhoun’s Ham House in 1964. Calhoun’s hams “are cured with a salt and brown sugar rub for eight weeks, then hung to cure for six to twelve months. This process dates back hundreds of years as a way to preserve meat without refrigeration.”12 Calhoun’s makes several ham products, including sausages and pork bellies often used for seasoning in vegetables and soups. Tom says one of their best sellers is the ham biscuit: they come in regular, medium, or tea-sized; they are sold individually, by the dozen, or in hundreds.13 He sources the biscuits from a local baker in Culpeper, then packages and sells them from the store and market (along with other synergetic homemade products such as honey and maple syrup).
Calhoun’s Ham House market display, an elongated U of four tables (two in the back and one on each side) sits under one of the open arches alongside the entrance to City Hall. The placement of products depends on who is in charge of the market stall; Tom likes to have the various items scattered about on the tables, while his daughter Tracy prefers a more orderly arrangement, with items grouped and aligned with one another. Tom maintains that customers are more likely to buy if the products surround them. Calhoun’s doesn’t have flashy signs, but they hand out brochures that describe the care and quality of the products they make and sell. Tom’s relationship to his customers at the farmers market goes beyond the sale; he says, “I was raised in Alexandria, Old Towne, [so the] people are special [to me]. They come to the market because their neighbors are there, and maybe they only see each other each week at the market. They like to talk about what they buy at there.”14 It is Calhoun’s good fortune that the Washington Post and the New York Times like to talk about his products as well—over the years, numerous write-ups have praised Calhoun products. Chef and proprietor Patrick O’Connell of The Inn at Little Washington calls Tom Calhoun a “ham artist,” noting that his hams “are moister, less salty and low on preservatives.”15 Perhaps the ultimate testament to Calhoun’s high-quality products: The White House has served Calhoun’s meat for decades.
Siblings Yi Wah and Caitlin Roberts operate one of the newer stands at Alexandria’s farmers market: Number One Sons (see image 4.10). They began making kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables in a thousand-square-foot basement in May 2012. Yi Wah and Caitlin use a “mother brine” to pickle products instead of vinegar, more typically used in industrialized fermentation. With the “mother brine” pickling process, they take fresh seasonal vegetables sourced directly from local farmers and “introduce [them] to a bacteria-rich environment that slowly converts the latent sugars into acid and works naturally to cure the veggies as it imparts all its funky fermented flavors.”16 Yi Wah and Caitlin strongly believe in the connection between how a product is made and its superiority—“slowness over speed and quality over quantity.”17 They want their customers to know and understand the products they purchase and how they differ from conventional fermented vegetables, which include pickles.
At the farmers market, each item of their display has a label naming the food and identifying the ingredients, which range from the more familiar cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, and green beans to the less known okra, kohlrabi, beets, and radishes. Clipboards that describe their fermenting processes and the consequent nutritional benefits sit next to clear containers full of kimchis, krauts, and pickles alongside a variety of specialty items. The names are as eye-catching as the colors—Half Sours, Kicky Koshers, and Blond Mary Pickles; Stinkin’ Rye Kraut, Clean Kraut, and Spring Ramp Kraut; Salsa So Verde, Dilly Beans, and Sauer-Rabi Kohlrabi. Caitlin likes to organize “the like with the like, usually lining them up from the least fermented and spiced to the most fermented and spicy.”18 According to (then) Market Master Megha Even, Number One Sons had become a highly sought-after vendor in its very first year. In catching up with Caitlin half a dozen years later, she said Number One Sons sells at thirty-four farmers markets each Saturday within a thirty-minute drive from DC. All are pop-up canopy markets. When asked about the sense of community, Caitlin responded that the anchor vendors set the tone and everyone (young and old) shares their expertise. She added that the robust market scene in the DC area draws great customers.19
Megha Even began managing the Old Town Farmers Market in 2013 after shopping at the market for ten years, and previously vending at a farmers market in New York City. In our conversation she exuded enthusiasm about her role, saying, “In my short time as market master, I have observed that the types of vendors are beginning to reflect the changing demographic of the city—more young families. And there seems to be an equal mix of shoppers who walk to the market and others who arrive by car. Lots of tourists come to the market due to the historic nature of the place and to get a light bite. But I think the fact that it is a year-round market adds to the community feeling.”16 I echo Megha’s sentiment that the market creates a sense of fellowship among strangers and friends as well as between veteran vendors and new ones. While many vendors at the market have sold there for decades, like Tom Calhoun, Megha says she’s noticed these veterans welcome the newbies. In conversation with Tom Calhoun about his observations on how the market has changed, he said, “The Alexandria market has been very good for us as it grew. And, although people resist change at first, they get used to it. Particularly the changes in rules were necessary for the market to be good. They have helped improve the market. It is the only farmers market I will sell at.”20
The city’s Department of General Services (DGS) hires a Market Master to oversee the Old Towne Farmers Market. This individual, however, only coordinates with three newer markets established in partnership with Alexandria residents who recognized the growth and success of Old Towne and advocated for a market in their neighborhoods. The West End Farmers Market in southwest Alexandria opened in 2008, and in 2010 Del Rey Farmers Market in Warwick Village and Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisan Market in Arlandria set up their clusters of pop-up canopies.21 West End’s farmers market assembles at the south end of Ben Brenman Park and showcases over forty vendors—those who sell the usual produce, meats, and cheese—but also vendors who offer unique products like locally roasted coffee and homemade dog treats. Del Ray’s market operates year-round and boasts over twenty vendors; some of whom (similar to West End’s market) offer unique treats like fresh donuts and croissants. The market at Four Mile Run opened in June 2010 with eight vendors who offer a wide variety of meats, cheeses, and produce, and the added bonus of tamales, salteñas, and empanadas. These markets have emerged from a strong sense of community and shared interest in eating local, healthy food, and have played significant roles in sustaining civic identity and neighborhood pride. Four Mile Run’s market website describes how the market came about as part of a broad mission to revitalize the area in different ways, saying, “We’re helping to fix a park, restore a stream and build community.”22
I first visited City Market in Charlottesville, Virginia, in late September 2011 on a windy but sunny day with a chill in the air. A dense mass of people cloaked in coats, scarves, and hats filled the aisle between parallel rows of pop-up canopies set up by vendors in a parking lot on a hill in downtown; the cool temperature clearly didn’t deter people from shopping the market. I paused at the corner of First and Water Streets and observed a steady stream of people pushing strollers and pulling wire carts, when suddenly a man zoomed by on a motor scooter with a basket full of produce strapped to the rear. Not a second later another man glided by on his bicycle, carrying a bulging tote bag over his shoulder. All this lively activity gave me the familiar sense of exuberance and awe that comes with visiting any farmers market for the first time.
Intrigued to enter further into the market, I anxiously turned from left to right looking for Kirsten Sparenbourg, a former student of mine who knew of my longtime interest in farmers markets. Kirsten wanted to show me Charlottesville’s premier market; she had just begun her graduate studies in historic preservation at the University of Virginia. I spotted her crossing Water Street, wearing a down vest, her head snuggled in a scarf. She enthusiastically led me up the cracked asphalt-paved slope lined with brightly colored pop-up canopies sheltering tables covered by an abundance of produce, fruit, plants, and flowers. The stalls varied in depth; some used a single pop-up canopy, while others used two pop-up canopies to cover the entire ten- by twenty-two-foot parking space. At the crest of the hill near Second Street SW, Kirsten and I turned left into another aisle lined on each side with pop-up canopies, which extended on more level terrain over the rest of the block towards South Street. In total, the pop-up canopies accommodate roughly 115 vendors and almost completely cover the three-quarter-acre block measuring 32,670 square feet. By 2014, an estimated four to six thousand people visit City Market each Saturday for nine months of the year23 (see image 4.11). The numbers continue to grow.
Charlottesville’s City Market originated in 1973 on Vinegar Hill at the intersection of South and Ridge Streets. And despite switching locations a couple of times over the years, the market has grown and prospered because residents habitually shop there for fresh, local food, and value it as a public place for community gathering.24 In 1993, City Market moved to its present-day Water Street location on a city-owned parking lot situated in the heart of downtown only a block away from Main Street’s pedestrian mall (see image 4.12). The Historic Downtown Mall is anchored by the Virginia Discovery Museum and Omni Hotel at the southwestern end and City Hall (adjacent to the nTelos Pavilion) on Seventh Street at the southeastern end. Since its revitalization in 1981, the downtown mall has become part of the daily routine for many who work and live in this historic district as well as a must-see destination for visitors. The City Market benefits from a symbiotic relationship with Historic Downtown Mall, which is comprised of three- to five-story buildings representing eclectic architectural styles ranging from Greek Revival to Art Deco to sleek modern all-glass facades. The heterogeneity of the architecture is complimented by a diversity of retail shops and restaurants at the ground level with offices and apartments above. The vitality of this redeveloped eight-block-long area now extends down the cross streets, such that First and Second Streets connecting directly to City Market are bustling with people traversing back and forth. The growing economic success of this district has put even greater pressure on the two remaining undeveloped parcels, one of which hosts the farmers market. However, despite the market’s positive economic and social contributions to the area, the higher economic potential value that new mixed-use development would garner significantly contrasts with the market’s limited revenues, and the relative ease of moving the vendors’ pop-up canopies to another location.
For over eight years, the city’s Office of Economic Development has worked to determine the viability of making the current location of the farmers market its permanent home through the construction of a minimal structure in tandem with buildings of varying uses. In 2007, they sponsored the Market Value design competition, which maintained:
Due in part to the 2008 economic recession in the US, the city did not develop the farmers-market-based designs of any of the winning proposals. Questions about the revenue potential of a singular-use but successful farmers market versus fully diversified development of the block and projected substantially larger revenues for surrounding businesses and city government contributed to delaying progress. The community was divided.
Despite setbacks in attaining confirmation from City Council that its current location would be designated as its permanent home, City Market has rapidly expanded over the past decade; vendors’ sales continue to rise, in turn increasing city revenues. The waiting list for a spot at the market is over a hundred long—the community continues to pressure local government leaders to increase the size of the market, not make it smaller, as the Market Value design competition brief had proposed. The market has two types of stalls: reserved and non-reserved. Assistant Director Lucy Lamm says that “only four years ago, the non-reserve spots were on a first-come, first-serve basis; now, want-to-be vendors must get on a waiting list at noon on Saturday for the following week’s market.”26 Gail Hobbs-Page of Caromont Farm knows too well that one must exercise patience when trying to get a spot at the market. She started her dairy operation seven years before becoming one of a fortunate few, new vendors to secure a stall in 2009, albeit adjacent to the portable toilets (not an ideal spot to sell her artisanal fresh and aged cheeses). Fortunately, within two years she moved to her present spot near South Street, where she enjoys the camaraderie of adjacent vendors, especially the “dahlia flower guy” next to her. Describing the sense of community among vendors, Gail says, “there are neighborhoods within the market. On my block, it feels like family, and after market we have a beer together. In winter months, I miss them.”27 She also believes that “the more she sells to individuals, the bigger the community of people who support local food and its benefits.”28
Likewise, Lee (Sturgis) O’Neill, who sells near First Street where Radical Roots Community Farm has set up their stall since 2002, also feels the multi-dimensional sense of community that Gail describes. Radical Roots Community Farm promotes a larger view of what farming offers; they work to catalyze “positive change by growing high quality, organically grown vegetables, [and educate] about permaculture and sustainable agriculture.”29 They offer group tours and private consultations to educate people about permaculture design and gardening and herbal care. While Radical Roots uses its farm as a platform to educate, Lee says, “The market is where people meet people. We are always trying to expand our community. We come from one hour away, others from further. It is a great place for our kids and other vendors’ kids to interact and play together.”30 On my first visit to City Market with Kirsten, Radical Roots’ stall caught our attention with its inviting display of colorful vegetables and herbs. Upon entering the stall, we admired multiple containers overflowing with peppers, squash, eggplant, onions, and cabbage; bunches of parsley stacked from waist high to chest level; and numerous signs informing customers of the farm’s certified organic status and different ways to purchase: by the pound, the bunch, or the box (see images 4.13 and 4.14). As we left the market and walked towards the Historic Downtown Mall, we discussed the ongoing issue of whether the city’s leadership would give the market a permanent home.
In July 2011, Market Central, a nonprofit organization created in 2003 to enhance and preserve City Market, asked the Charlottesville City Council once again to address the issue of a permanent home for the market, which they hadn’t made progress on since the 2007 design competition. In November 2010, “City Council authorized the formation of a task force to evaluate proposed future home sites for the market, and to make a recommendation to the Council based on these evaluations.”31 The City Market Task Force included citizens from multiple constituent groups including Market Central, market vendors, the University of Virginia, and local business and city employees. Parks and Recreation Director Brian Daly facilitated the group through five months of research and discussion of potential sites and selection criteria, which concluded with the task force’s recommendation to City Council in July 2011: keep City Market in its current location, but make improvements. Internationally renowned public and farmers market consultant David O’Neil, who served as a resource for the task force, concurred, stating:
City Council expressed interest in the market district concept, but six months passed without action. Market Central continued to pressure City Council and, in May 2012, the city requested to hire a consultant to determine the project’s scope and feasibility. A few months later, the city hired two local firms and Maine-based Market Ventures Inc. because of their specialized experience with public market districts and farmers market expansion planning. Within a year, Market Ventures Inc.’s Ted Spitzer and his consultant team presented a feasibility study with two options—one to stay put, one to move—for a permanent downtown home for City Market.33
The University of Virginia’s Jefferson Public Citizen Scholars also conducted research on City Market over a period of seven weeks. When the group asked citizens how they viewed City Market’s contribution to the community, 61.3 percent strongly agreed that “it provides a place for community members to convene; a valuable public space,” while 90.7 percent strongly agreed that “it provides a venue to support local farmers and the local economy.”34 Certainly the first is necessary for the latter, which can be evaluated as generating social capital and appreciated revenue, while also sustaining diversity of jobs in the city and surrounding region.
In mid-September 2013, my husband and I visited City Market during a trip to Charlottesville. We arrived near the end of market hours, but the market still buzzed with activity. We happened upon Caromont’s stall, where Gail Hobbs-Page chatted with a customer while an intern offered tasty morsels of Esmontonian and feta, both made using goat “milk from animals raised on the principles of natural husbandry and grass-based management.”35 In a later phone conversation with Gail, she expressed that she feels it’s important for her to be at the market during open hours, as “nobody knows the product like the one who makes it.” She also emphasized the significance of the layout of her stall, a singular table positioned at the front of the stand, because, “unlike produce vendors who have lots of color and a variety of shapes to attract the shopper, [she] must provide tastings and engage the customer.”36 Gail accomplishes this by displaying a plate of toothpick-ready, bite-size pieces to entice shoppers to taste her cheeses. Her methods prove effective—the day my husband and I stopped by on our way out of town, I tasted a flavorful morsel of feta and happily purchased a tub filled with a hunk of the cheese submerged in brine.
A month after my impromptu visit to the market, I learned that City Council had met in October to discuss the two alternatives proposed by Market Ventures Inc. The council ultimately agreed “to seek proposals from firms to develop the existing City Market on Water Street as a mixed-use project that also would provide an improved home for the market.”37 I was intrigued to learn that locals surveyed by the city expressed a preference for the market remaining pop-up canopy-based instead of moving inside a building—they voiced more interest in a permanent location and amenities for the customers, such as places to sit, trees offering shade, and bathrooms. During the October 2013 council meeting, the director of the Office of Economic Development, Chris Engel, advised the council to obtain a lease agreement for an alternative site on Garrett Street that the market could use during development of the original site. Even this proposed solution caused controversy, however, as moving further away from the downtown mall and the safety issues of an adjacent train track concerned vendors. As the 2013 market season ended, City Market appeared to have finally found a permanent home in its current location. Although many characterize the progress as too slow, significant progress was made in the following year. In summary, city leaders requested proposals from qualified developers, then four were selected to make a presentation to City Council during one of its work sessions. Local residents were given the opportunity to ask questions at a subsequent public hearing followed by City Council directing staff to proceed with the Market Plaza proposal.38
From my review of the architectural renderings, the new design for City Market will transform the pop-up market into an open-air pavilion market located on a civic plaza of a new nine-story L-shaped building that includes six levels of residences, two levels of office space, and ground floor retail. There is much concern by the community about the privately owned but public-use plaza where the market would set up, such that the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation secured a 99-year lease to operate City Market on the new plaza whether or not the property changes owners.
Four years later the whole deal fell through and there currently are no future plans for any type of development. City Market remains largely unchanged physically, but it is more prosperous than ever. Sales exceeded $2 million in 2018 and the number of vendors expanded from 105 to 12739 (see image 4.15). For me this saga validates a proposition framed in Chapter 1; farmers markets belong to the vendors and people who shop there – the market community. It also illustrates the architecture of place that can be created by the temporary pop-up canopies, due to the location filled with our histories and memories. As Lucy Lippard reminds us, “It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.”40
The opening of Staunton’s farmers market in 1993 followed a dozen years of adaptive reuse and revitalization of the Wharf Historic District, which is comprised of twenty-five late-nineteenth-century warehouses located between Johnson Street and the C&O Railroad. Between the 1950s and 1970s, the city destroyed many buildings in the Wharf Historic District due to lack of use and maintenance. The Historic Staunton Foundation, founded in 1971, began a movement in the 1980s for the preservation and renovation of Staunton’s five historic districts. Over two decades later, Staunton’s Farmers Market thrives and boasts over three dozen diverse producer-only vendors who sell on Saturdays from April through November, and Wednesdays May through September. On Staunton Farmers Market’s web site one patron’s post indicates the foundation’s success. It reads, “The Staunton Farmers Market is more than a collection of vendors; there is an air of small-town Virginia, a social atmosphere that in itself is worth the trip.”41
Fortunately, the Historic Staunton Foundation appointed local urban planner and architectural historian Bill Frazier to be director, and he led the community effort to create a comprehensive revitalization plan for the Wharf District with grant money the foundation received from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Frazier galvanized a group of citizens who, with the professional expertise of landscape architect Gary Okerlund, crafted a proposal for the adaptive reuse of the warehouses as residential, retail, and office buildings.42 Around the same time, the Historic Staunton Foundation received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant to study streetscapes throughout the city and propose streetlights, signage, paving, trash cans, etc. that characterized historic-era designation, such as Victorian for the downtown and Industrial for the Wharf area. Tom Roberts, newly elected mayor at the time, supported the Historic Staunton Foundation’s wide-ranging revitalization proposal by allocating $500,000 of municipal funds to the project in 1980.43
In addition to rehabilitating the Wharf District’s warehouses, the Foundation revitalized much of the buildings’ exteriors as well. They widened the sidewalk directly in front of the buildings along Byers Street to accommodate outdoor dining, and built a new twelve-foot-wide, brick-paved sidewalk perpendicularly midway along the buildings’ frontage. The brick sidewalk, which bisects the adjacent municipal parking lot, provides a strong visual, physical link to the historic downtown. The tree-lined, hundred-foot long walkway ends at a fountain at the intersection of Johnson Street and North Central Avenue. The Historic Staunton Foundation’s exhaustive renovation laid the groundwork, quite literally, for the present-day farmers market that sets up on the brick-paved sidewalk and on the western side of the city-owned parking lot (see image 4.16).
The market sits adjacent to downtown’s mixed-use Beverley Historic District to the north and residential neighborhoods of the Gospel Hill and Newtown Historic Districts to the east and west, respectively. The market’s close proximity to these areas allows for many of Staunton’s residents and workers to reach it via a short walk or an even quicker drive. The Beverley neighborhood is comprised of more than one hundred and fifty Victorian-era buildings tightly packed into eleven blocks; Newtown and Gospel Hill are comprised of late eighteenth- and nineteenth- and early-twentieth century residences, many of them designed by renowned local architect T. J. Collins.44 The area’s architectural beauty and charm haven’t gone unnoticed—in 1995, Staunton gained status as a Virginia Main Street Community, followed by an award as Great American Main Street Community in 2002, and accolades as one of the top twenty “Best Small Towns in America” by Smithsonian magazine in 2012.45 The American Planning Association designated Staunton as one of its “Great Places in America” in the December 2016 issue of Planning Magazine.46
In 1993 Bill Frazier (of the Historic Staunton Foundation), his wife Kathy, and a few of their friends asked the city and county government to each contribute a thousand dollars for the creation of the Staunton Farmers Market. In return, they promised to donate a thousand dollars of their own as well as to organize and operate the market on Saturday mornings. They argued that the market would produce three positive outcomes: (1) a new source of income for local farmers, (2) fresh, local food for residents, and (3) economic development opportunities for adjacent areas.47 The group researched rules and regulations of other markets and decided that theirs would be “producer-only.” Bill considers implementing this rule as the most important decision they made when starting the market, as “producer-only means that all the vendors grow or make what they sell—there is absolutely no resale of food grown or made by someone else.” The producer-only rule extends to vendors who sell crafts and all other products; they, too, must make everything they sell themselves—Bill was clear from the start that the farmers market was not to be a “flea market.”48 The city opened a bank account on behalf of the market founders, and the farmers market opened in the spring of 1993 with six to ten vendors each Saturday.
As I drove into the parking lot off Johnson Street one September morning, I observed an assembly of a dozen pop-up canopies interspersed amidst the allée of trees along the aforementioned brick-paved sidewalk, and upon first impression, thought the market looked less impressive than its website claimed—I could see just about as many shoppers as pop-up canopies (see image 4.17). However, once I began to walk around, another two dozen canopies in the parking lot came into view, bustling with shoppers of all ages. Parents used strollers as shopping carts, while their small children walked alongside holding onto the stroller’s handle. One child held the hand of his father who pulled a red wagon filled with bags of produce. Elderly people walked with canes or took in the activity while pushed along in a wheelchair by a family member or friend. Dogs on leashes stood patiently alongside their owners as they chatted with other shoppers. I recalled the comment on the web site about the small-town, social atmosphere and agree that Staunton’s market is indeed a vibrant place of community gathering (see image 4.18).
As I scanned the individual vendor displays, my attention was drawn to a cowhide draped over a table that held a refrigerated display case containing various cuts of meats and a sign hanging above that asserted, “Longhorn Beef—It’s What’s for Dinner” (see image 4.19). Across the twenty-four-foot wide aisle, another sign declared, “Weird Dude’s Plant Zoo—Awesome Perennials,” only to be challenged by another vendor’s sign claiming, “Home to Amanda’s FAMOUS Granola Bars—Just Plain ‘Ol Good.” The all-caps accentuation of “famous” prompted me to ask the woman behind the table what makes the granola bars so fabulous.
Amanda Rhodes introduced herself and handed me a brochure that explained her sign’s claim. At nine years old, she started making the bars for sale at the farmers market from a recipe that her mom found. Amanda’s parents, Barbara and Tom Womack, began selling at Staunton’s farmers market in 1993 when they established Homestead Hill Farm in nearby Middlebrook, Virginia. At some point, Amanda decided she wanted to pursue a path other than that of a second-generation market vendor, so she stopped making the granola bars and selling them at the market. It wasn’t until Amanda closed her shop that she realized her granola bars’ fame; customers told her that they bought them not just for themselves, but also sent them to friends and family members who did not live in the area, some shipped as far away as Canada and Germany. To everyone’s delight, Amanda resumed making granola bars and selling them at her own market stall—Country Rhodes Produce & Bakery, which now includes sourdough breads, seasonal produce, and eggs. She and her husband, Tyler, started farming in Springhill, Virginia after marrying in 2010. She displays her baked goods on tables, while her vegetables fill multiple shelves of a wooden structure built by Tyler. In between sales, Amanda immediately refills baskets and trays because she’s observed, “the fuller, the better the product will sell”49 (see image 4.20).
The Womacks, illustrious veteran vendors of Staunton’s market, offer an array of produce, lamb, chicken, and eggs at their stall, and always display unabashed enjoyment for their choice to farm and sell at the farmers market. Barbara admits that they’ve faced trying times and have to work extremely hard, but says that her family “counts it a privilege to make a living doing what we love.”50 Through conversation while at the market, and later through email, Barbara described how selling at the market involved informing shoppers about the difference (and better quality) of their food and farming practices. Tom added that he “has not found any local food-selling venue better than the farmers market where people can learn about the origins and process of growing or producing the food they purchase and ultimately eat.”51 The printed brochure that they hand out at the market exclaims, “KNOW YOUR FARMER, KNOW YOUR FOOD” across the top.
Peg Davis of Snow Spring Farm has equal affection for farming, which she’s done for over forty years, as well as selling at Staunton’s market, which she’s done for fifteen years. She once told me that the market is the “Saturday morning place to be in Staunton!” She sees it as more than just a place for business transactions. “As vendors, we know our regular customers very well, and miss them terribly when the market closes for the winter. We know about their families, their kids, their dogs. Every Saturday is a reunion.”.52
To encourage new customers to walk under her ten-by-ten-foot canopy, Peg configures three tables in a U-shape with large price signs clearly visible from a distance for baskets filled with in-season heirloom vegetables, fruit leathers (a dried fruit snack), and homemade pies. She also prominently displays her two signature items made with hot peppers: Datil Hot Pepper Sauce and Habanero Butter. On her relationship with customers, Peg says:
Peg describes yet another example of how farmers markets enable community members to build lasting relationships that endure beyond the borders of the market.
Many other vendors echo Peg’s sentiment about the market’s community-building power. A veteran vendor from the market’s origins, Susan Randall of Elk Run Farm, also earnestly values the friendships she shares with her customers; she says, “We know most of our customers and what’s going on with them. Some of our customers have been at our farm for friendly visits and we have dined at a few of their homes.”54 Christie Huger of Mountain View Farm, another longtime vendor, describes the sense of camaraderie between vendors at the small-town market: “I don’t think it’s the case at all markets, but we do have a sense of community at ours. There is genuine caring among us for others. You see it with the new or younger vendors interacting with longtime and older ones.”55
Market patrons share this sentiment, as summed up by Sophie Cantell Lambert. She says:
From the outset, vendors at the Staunton market have mostly self-governed with only occasional assistance from the city manager. Susan Randall, in addition to selling at the market, serves as chair of the governing Farmers Market Committee, a group primarily comprised of vendors. A few dedicated customers also serve on the Farmers Market Committee; Susan explains, “occasionally, we have to ask for help from our customers to get support for policy changes from the city.”57 Peg Davis served on the committee for nine years; of her tenure, she says, “I feel strongly that my role on the Committee is to help preserve the integrity of our wonderful market. It’s the most important thing I do off the farm.”58 The Staunton Farmers Market’s economic success and its facilitation of a resilient bond between citizens and farmers has made it a “model market”—it directly influenced the organization of new public farmers markets across Virginia: from nearby Monterey, Lexington, and Broadway to across the state in Williamsburg, and even as far as Birmingham, Alabama.59
Throughout my research on pop-up canopy markets, it surprised me to discover that many of these large markets, including Alexandria’s, resist efforts to build a permanent structure. They instead value the sense of place that comes not from a permanent building but from the very presence of people of all ages and backgrounds who come together regularly for the simple and mundane activities of life. When you think about it, it is not all that different from nomadic tribes who return annually to the same places to hunt and gather because they know that there is food to be had in abundance. Smaller markets like Staunton’s have considered building a permanent structure but haven’t done so because they value the temporary, festive feeling of an outdoor, makeshift setting. Absent the architecture of a physical structure, the landscape and encompassing built environment provide a sufficient setting for generating meaningful memories of the rituals that farmers markets sustain. Perhaps it is for both of these reasons that pop-up markets are the dominant type of farmers market during the past three decades of tremendous growth in numbers and prosperity across the country. They dominate due to several factors: 1) low cost and portability of canopy, tables, etc.; 2) ease of set-up / takedown; and 3) municipal parking lots offer no-cost location and adjacent parking for shoppers. Perhaps they are also part of a larger trend of temporary events, such as food truck rodeos and pop-up art galleries.