On a warm day in mid-October, Michele Levy sits at a folding table with a long line in front of her as young Yacouba Doumbia bounces on her lap. Doumbia’s mother peruses the fresh produce and cheeses around the Crossroads Farmers Market as the sound of frying pupusas crackles in the background.
The market, which aims to serve the of the primarily Latino population of the Takoma Langley Crossroads, wasn’t Co-Director Levy’s idea, but without her and the other dedicated market workers like Co-Director Michelle Dudley and Outreach Coordinator Rosa Sanchez that come out every week from May to October, it might not have become the market it is today.
The market was the first in Maryland to allow customers to use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps, to pay for food at the farmers market and the first in the country to offered double dollars to those using SNAP and other food assistance programs.
But before all that, Levy had different plans.
“If anyone had told me even four years ago that I’d be working in agriculture and spending my time at farmers markets for fun I would have thought it was a joke,” she said.
Levy grew up in Rockville and attended the Jewish Day School there. Then she attended Dickinson College, graduating in 2006 with degrees in Middle Eastern Studies and Women’s Studies.
After Dickinson, Levy spent a year in Israel. She came back to D.C. for what she thought was going to be a quick stop, but that’s when she got hooked on farmers markets. While working at a few different nonprofits, through a college friend she picked up some weekend hours at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market with Keswick Creamery.
“They needed extra hands so I started selling cheese as a weekend gig,” Levy said.
Then in May 2009 she signed up to be a seasonal part-time market assistant at the Crossroads Farmers Market. Now Levy is co-director along with Dudley, who joined the market a year before Levy.
Crossroads was the brainchild of the late John Hyde, who founded the market in 2007. He wanted to create the first farmers market in the country that was both intentionally situated in an underserved community and offered financial incentives for low-income area residents, according to Levy.
In 2009, Levy’s first season there, the market distributed just over $14,000 in Fresh Checks to low-income area residents. In the 2011 season they were on pace to distribute close to $60,000, Levy said.
After the 2009 season Levy, Dudley, Sanchez and the market’s board of directors decided they wanted to make the market a year-round experience. Though the physical market is only open from May to October, Levy helped implement an outreach program.
The market has now expanded by offering farm-to-table educational programming at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park and has jointly directed an urban farmer-training program with Prince George's County-based ECO City Farms.
Levy and the market are also spreading the word across Maryland through the Eat Fresh Maryland Network. The network is a collaborative, launched in 2010 to develop best practices for improving food access across the state.
The downtown Takoma Park Farmers Market might be the better known of city’s two markets, but with the help of Levy and the rest of the Crossroads crew, the market on the east side of Takoma Park is gaining its footing as an important resource for underprivileged residents seeking out fresh food.