To me, nothing says “winter is here, time to give up and eat cookies” more so than the seasonal closure of the 14th & U Farmers market. So imagine my delight to see that Smucker Farms of Lancaster Co. finally opened its doors at 14th and W NW last Saturday to help fill the void.
Owner Eric Smucker was at the helm this weekend, welcoming a steady flow of customers. Though the building, a former accountant’s office, had stood empty for five years, it now offers a selection of produce, meat, dairy, bath products, and even furniture sourced directly from 35 to 40 farms in Lancaster County, PA. Most of the suppliers are Amish, which is also how Smucker’s father was raised.
As demand for local and non-corporate food has skyrocketed in recent years, Smucker says the small farmers and producers in Southeast Pennsylvania have seized the opportunity.
“The small producers in Lancaster County are making some really great products, with incredibly high standards,” Smucker told me. “When I was a little kid, Lancaster farmers made farm cheese, Monterey Jack, and cheddar.” Now, the same farmers have mastered fancier varieties, and restaurants such as Vinoteca and The Tabbard Inn are buying it “because the cheese is so damn good.”
Smucker, who used to work in finance in emerging economies, began planning the store back in November of last year. “I initially thought I would want to stay south of U Street,” but his market research showed an opportunity at 14th and W Streets NW.
“With all of the condos, there are a lot of people living here. But the majority of them are doing their grocery shopping a mile to a mile-and-a-half away.” He decided he could offer a selection of what people wanted at a more convenient location. Yes Organic across the street is “a complement, not competition,” Smucker said. “We don’t sell orange juice, and they don’t sell a lot of the things that we have available here.”
As we spoke, a line of people outside the front door waited for lunch at neighboring Martha’s Table. Smucker cringed as his customers tried to navigate through the crowd and squeeze into the store. “They’ve told me they are going to move their line the other direction,” he said gently.
The fact that they are neighbors is an interesting juxtaposition to be sure — the farmers market set next door to a soup kitchen. It’s a reminder of how the tremendous forces of food politics and economics show themselves even at the most local level.
Still, Smucker’s enthusiasm for the job at hand, and for the farmers he sources from, is infectious. “We feel bare right now,” he acknowledged, pointing to the white walls and some of the still-empty shelves, “but we’re expecting lots more.”
That will include whole bean coffee, more baked goods, and a wider selection of meat and dairy. Check them out at 2118 14th Street NW, for more information.