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By: Jania Matthews   Date:  9/21/09

Living in DC certainly has some perks and last week a few lucky staffers here at the International Food Information Council Foundation got to experience one of them...a visit to the grand opening of the new "White House" Farmers Market with all of its fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and of course a special appearance by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Her visit certainly made this farmer’s market unlike any other I’d visited. While the White House didn't say the market belonged to them in any way, it was clear they put a lot of effort behind seeing it come to fruition.  For all the buzz around town about it, The First Lady only drew a modest crowd, likely because of the rainy and dreary weather(and perhaps the heavy security).  Still, there was a unique energy in the air with people peering out of office windows overlooking the market and plenty of flashing cameras. 

Michelle Obama

In her speech Mrs. Obama talked about her garden at the White House and how its grown both literally and figuratively.  While she started it as a model for kids, she said now its the first thing world leaders ask her about.  Its also become the centerpiece of her healthy eating initiatives.  She hopes that gardens and farmer’s markets can play a role in larger discussions about obesity, diabetes and health care and also sees them as a way to create better communities and allow people to come together and talk about their food, share recipes, and get to know one another.

The farmers market goes beyond the White House, it was also a key component of the USDA's new "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program.  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack used the opening to announce that the USDA is giving millions in grants for farmers market promotion around the country.  In addition, Secretary Vilsack gave credit to the Obamas' for single handedly making children and health a top priority.

The District’s Mayor, Adrian Fenty made the comment that he’d never in the history of this country seen people excited about a farmer’s market and eating right—a comment that stuck with me throughout the remainder of the day. Perhaps in the wake of an obesity epidemic and the media’s focus on unhealthy lifestyles people are more eager to consume foods that are presumed to be more healthful. Or perhaps, people are excited because the First Family has noticably prioritized healthful eating and have not shied away from promoting the idea of fresh and organic food choices. 

Of course, if people want to live healthier lives they should know that shopping at their local farmer’s market isn’t the only option.  We spent around $20 for just a few items, certainly it would have cost less at a grocery store.  So for now, the verdict is still out on the White House market, it was a splashy opening to be sure, but will it still have the same appeal in 6 weeks when it closes for the season? 

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