News & Politics

Green Giants: Bernadine Prince and Ann Yonkers

Washington’s Farmers Market Pioneers.

Photograph by Melissa Golden.

“Where are the bananas?” Someone always asks that, according to Bernadine Prince and Ann Harvey Yonkers, founders of FreshFarm Markets. In case you’re wondering, there are no bananas because the markets sell only what’s grown or produced locally.

But there are plenty of other choices. When Prince and Yonkers opened the first market on July 4, 1997, at DC’s Dupont Circle, they had 15 farmers selling fruit, vegetables, plants, and flowers. Today FreshFarm has 120-plus farmers and producers in ten markets selling all that plus meat (from chicken and beef to bison and goat), milk, cheese, mushrooms, crabcakes, breads and pastries, eggs, yogurt, preserves, grains, soap, charcuterie, and prepared foods.

“It’s a local-foods revolution,” Yonkers says. Adds Prince: “It’s cheaper than a grocery store,” because the food is so fresh that it lasts longer after you get it home.

The markets honor food stamps and other government-supported coupons so disadvantaged consumers–who often live where fresh food is scarce–can improve their diets, and they match up to $15 so the food aid goes farther.

FreshFarm also has a “gleaning” program: More than 30,000 pounds of unsold food was donated last year to nonprofits that feed the hungry and homeless. Its Chef at Market program invites chefs to demonstrate how to select and prepare fresh food. FreshFarm offers scholarships for farmers to attend conferences and meetings to increase their efficiency and profitability, and it has created an edible garden at DC’s Watkins Elementary.

As Prince and Yonkers celebrate FreshFarms’ 15th anniversary, they downplay their role. Says Yonkers: “The farmers are the rock stars.”

This article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.