Editor’s note: A short walk or drive to the New Morning Farm Market is a weekend tradition for many families in this neighborhood, but lately we’ve had to find other ways to fill our Saturday mornings. The long-running farmers market is on hiatus until June. New Morning Farm’s founder is depriving us for a good reason, though.
By Lindsay Damon
On such a beautiful day in March, one would expect that on its last day at Sheridan School until June, the New Morning Farm market would be bursting with colorful berries, sweet peppers, and bright greens. However with the exception of apples that span the spectrum of greens, yellows, pinks, and reds, many of the crops at this locally-famous market are winter root crops, grown for storage because of their maximum staying power.
“Most people don’t understand,” says Jim Crawford, owner and founder of New Morning Farm. “They think that because the weather is warm, new crops should be ready. They don’t understand the time and effort that goes into making quality crops.”
From the moment you meet him, you know that Jim loves what he does and does it well. “The time that goes into the growing season, this is the best time of the year.”
The New Morning Farm market has been a Forest Hills/Cleveland Park neighborhood standby since 1977, and has been at its current Saturday home at the Sheridan School (36th and Alton NW) since 1990. Jim and his employees drive two to three trucks full of produce over two hours from Hustontown, PA to the Sheridan School each Saturday (June through March) and Tuesday (June through September), and to the Fresh Farm Market in Dupont Circle on Sundays (May through December) to set up and share the fruits of their labor.
Though the farm is in Pennsylvania, Jim is no stranger to Washington, DC. In fact, he was enrolled at Catholic University’s Law School when he realized that he wasn’t on the path he really wanted. In 1972, he left CU and moved to West Virginia, where he rented land and began growing.
“It started as a garden, and each year, it just got bigger and bigger,” he says. He met his wife Moie in 1974 and the two moved to Hustontown after buying the farm in 1976. Jim and Moie founded the Tuscarora Organic Growers (TOG) Co-Op in 1988, so that he and neighboring farmers could have market access and so that organic local produce could be available from different sources. Today, dozens of DC-area restaurants receive produce from the 40+ members of TOG, and the co-op produces around $2 million in revenue for local farmers yearly.
Jim knows most of the customers at the market. He has watched many grow up and come back to visit family, he never forgets a face. As he walks around, chatting with friends and answering questions with his clipboard in hand, his calm demeanor can lead you to think that life at the farm is pretty easygoing and stress-free. However, when asked about the day-to-day challenges, he notes, “Everything is a challenge. The easiest part is the markets”.
As the farm has expanded (Jim and the crew now farm approximately 45 of their 90 acres), so has the crew, the machine power, and the risks. “It’s not just about gardening anymore- it’s about business.” The farm currently employs around 20 employees during peak season, but only four to five during the colder months. Many of the employees are part of an apprenticeship program, learning to be farmers themselves. All employees, whether experienced or green, know how carefully he runs the farm. Each employee assumes responsibility for a crop or multiple crops, thus owning a part of the accountability, and the success.
Though he isn’t in the fields as much anymore, he is constantly in communication with employees through the extensive intercom system linking the farm office to the work areas. “Technology has changed so much of our day-to-day,” he says. “It took 41 years, but we now take credit cards. I never thought that would happen.”
Each year, the farm produces around 50 varieties of crops with 200 plantings. The risks are ever present. The fall floods this year destroyed the farm’s crop of much-loved tomatoes, corn, beans, and parsnips among others. “We learn something new every year, that’s for sure.”
Through its growth, New Morning Farm has come to be a neighborhood staple for folks looking for fresh tomatoes, beautiful lettuce, delicious sweet corn, and crisp green beans, as well as delicious local preserves, baked goods and breads. Even though much of the produce is organically grown, “I think it’s less about the organic and more about the local,” Jim says. It’s true. People like knowing their farmer. They like to know who their food comes from, especially if that person is one that has watched their children grow and go to college, celebrate birthdays and new jobs, and been a good friend.
Though he stays busy with the farm, Jim isn’t always working. He often visits with friends in Washington, DC for weekends before and after the market and he can be found sailing on the Potomac. And when you ask him where the strawberries, kale, or peppers are, don’t be surprised if he instead points you towards his favorite crop- the humble kohlrabi. Even though you might not have heard of it (firm light green flesh, crisp, almost like broccoli stem)- trust him- he’s been doing this for a long time.
Lindsay Damon is a DC-based cashier at New Morning Farm markets. You can see her at the weekly market, usually eating a gala apple or granola bar. She is a school social worker with Family Support Center, Inc. in Bethesda, MD, specializing in work with at-risk youth.