From Alejandra Owens. You can find her at her food blog, One Bite At A Time. Alejandra also writes for City Eats DC, a Food Network site, where you can book dinner reservations. Follow her on Twitter at @frijolita and email her at alejandra[AT]borderstan.com
As someone who is constantly on the hunt for quality produce, dairy and meat, I was particularly excited to finally check out Smucker Farms of Lancaster Co. The owner, his family and a few local producers hosted a grand opening party where a number of food bloggers and local residents got to sample a variety of the items sold in the store
It’s a simple, unassuming store front — so much so that Tammy and I nearly walked right past it. Smucker Farms was founded by Eric Smucker, a Lancaster-native and long-time DC resident, to create a direct connection between producers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and consumers in DC at their store at 2118 14th Street (just below W), which opened last November.
“I was between jobs as a result of the financial crash,” said Smucker. “It wasn’t a good time to be in finance! I was at home in Lancaster and felt the residents of DC were missing out on all the great produce and goods coming from where I grew up.”
The now settled into store features produce, meats, milk, cheeses, ice cream, gelato, baked goods, kombucha and more. At the moment, about 85% of the store features items or goods sourced or made in Lancaster County but they hope to flip that number to feature items or goods sourced from right here in DC. A few of the items that stood out to me were bottles from DC’s first kombucha microbrewery, Capital Kombucha, pickled items from Gordy’s Pickle Jar and pints of my personal favorite, Dolcezza Gelato.
Once you enter the store and realize just how big the space is, you appreciate how truly jam-packed it is with so many delicious things. Homemade pastas, crackers, specialty popcorns, “cookie in a jar” mixes (which made really lovely cookies by the way), jams, vinaigrettes, an entire case of a variety of cuts of 100% grass-fed beef, organic free-range chicken and sausages, a cooler stocked with fresh herbs, beets, lettuces, stir fry mixes and more, and a variety of spices that would make even the most well-stocked kitchen blush.
As if the “charm” factor wasn’t high enough, when Eric Smucker took to the daïs (an overturned wooden produce crate) to thank us all for coming, his mother asked him a question. “Is the grass-fed beef only fed grass, Eric?!” clearly tossing him a softball and making it all the more clear that Smucker Farms of Lancaster County isn’t some hippy/hipster, organic, locally sourced market — it was a family venture, something Eric Smucker wouldn’t or couldn’t have done alone.
“The building hadn’t been occupied since 2004 or 2005, and it was my father and I that did most of the demolition and build-out in the space,” added Smucker. “We had to tear up three layers of flooring to get to what you’re standing on now.”
Smucker then gave us the run down of all the blown up photos hanging throughout the store. “Those are chickens from our farm,” he said somewhat ironically. “And that’s my uncle sitting in a field on our farm. That’s the barn raising from my grandparent’s farm. And that’s a milk cow. Oh and that’s my nephew sitting on a tractor!” To which the group sighed a collective “awwwww.”
I have high hopes for the Smuckers’ store, and particularly see it filling a gap come winter when the markets shut down or it’s slim pickings throughout. Will you be making a trip to check it out soon? Or have you already? What did you guys think of it?
Smucker Farms of Lancaster County is located at 2118 14th St NW and is open from 9am to 9pm all week long.
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.