In a grassy field in the middle of the city, farmers and artisans pitch their tents and set up tables displaying their harvests: crisp, peppery arugula; beefy tomatoes; peak-season zephyr squash, blossoms still intact. But a good farmers market brings more than fresh vegetables to the table. It creates a community.
Birdhouse Farmers Market (formerly Byrd House Market), a service of the William Byrd Community House, acted as such for nine years. When it seemed the shuttering of the nonprofit would result in the disappearance of its beloved market, vendors banded together. It began with gathering those who were “committed to the heart and the practical mission of the market — to provide access to fresh, healthy food to underserved communities,” says former market coordinator Ana Edwards. Thanks to support from Enrichmond, the community staple recently became its own vendor-run nonprofit market.
That’s not the only change to look for when it returns this month. After a long search, the board partnered with Randolph Community Center — where you’ll find the market every Tuesday from May 3 until Nov. 22, from 3 to 6:30 p.m. — and in the nearby Second Baptist Church. It’s “one of the few markets that has done everything it can to best serve a community that might not have consistent access to healthy local food,” says Shalom Farms’ Dominic Barrett, who sits on the board alongside Edwards, Amy Hicks of Amy’s Organic Garden, Debra Stoneman of Byrd Farm, Autumn Campbell of Tomten Farm, and Patty Parks from the Richmond Public Library, which will provide a pop-up library and storyteller each week. The pop-up is integral to the market’s communal backbone; Randolph is the only city district without a public library.
A midweek market is essential to farm survival, as crops need to be harvested continuously during the season. “[Birdhouse Farmers Market] is really important to us food vendors,” Campbell says. “Not only do we have CSA pick-ups and other things to do in the city, but [Birdhouse Farmers Market] has been the sole urban market in the center of town.” But it’s more than location and vegetables that make it a favorite. Birdhouse Farmers Marker is an opportunity to slow down and enjoy a popsicle with friends, and now, you can slurp from the side of a public pool, with book in hand. If that’s not an upgrade, I’m not sure what is.
Editor's note: Birdhouse Farmers Market changed its name after this article went to press. The organization was originally named Byrd House Market.