As the fall foliage peaks, a picturesque image of Georgetown University emerges, most notably on Wednesday afternoons when students flock to enjoy the Georgetown University Farmers Market (GUFM).
Multicolored picnic blankets dot Copley Lawn while an aroma of freshly cooked food swirls around campus. A large pizza oven sends smoke into the air as students try new cuisines of their choice. Crepes, pastries, vegetables, bao buns, cheeseburgers and so much more can be found clenched in students’ hands as they relax with friends on Copley Lawn or dash off to their next class. Either way, the mid-week pick-me-up of GUFM has become a hallmark of a Georgetown fall.
Katherine Gage (COL ’24) said she has been a fan of the farmers market since she first arrived on campus.
“I feel like there is always a new stand to try and food for every mood,” Gage told The Hoya.
Although the seasonal market is a favorite among students, it will close for the semester Nov. 16, before opening up next Spring on a weather-dependent schedule. It will likely begin sometime between late February and mid-March, according to Ben Hale (MSB ’23), the treasurer of GUFM.
The market shut down when the university operated remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. GUFM is now working to bring vendors back to the vibrant market, returning it to full capacity as it was before March 2020.
Along with trying new food, Gage said she enjoys the sense of community fostered at the farmers market.
“My friends and I often go sit on the lawn after we get our food and just spend time together,” Gage said. “Standing in line, I run into people I know, and overall, more people are just in Red Square, and I love seeing everyone.”
Community Among Students and Vendors
Students come together to work with vendors to make GUFM possible every week. From students organizing the market each week to students helping staff many stalls, the GUFM would not be possible without a strong relationship between Georgetown students and the vendors.
At the beginning of each market season, GUFM members explore other markets in Washington, D.C. and the greater D.C. area to scope out new vendors for GUFM. Vendors apply and pay a fee to join the market. When asked about how much they charge vendors to participate in the market, GUFM declined to comment.
Among the regular vendors this season are; Bun’d Up, a Taiwanese Korean Fusion vendor; DMV Empanadas, which sells classic and American-inspired empanadas; Yoga in a Bowl, a soul-stirring Indian food vendor; Rita’s Crepes, which sells sweet and savory crepes; Timber Pizza, which makes fresh Neapolitan-style pizza; Dreaming Out Loud, a non-profit organization focused on community enrichment and food sovereignty; and Borek-G, a market and café that serves Turkish pastries, desserts, and rice platters.
Both Borek-G and Yoga in a Bowl hire students to help out with cooking and food distribution.
“I mainly hire students for the rest of the running of the market,” Chabra said. “I actually rely on the students to help me make this work.”
Mia Hewell (SFS ’24) began working at Borek-G this year after seeing an advertisement on the GUFM Instagram.
“It’s actually really fun,” Hewell said. “They’re super nice and funny so it’s really fun to just be here.”
The market allows vendors to share their family recipes. Dilek Kaygusuz, who founded Borek-G, sells her Turkish home cooking at local farmers markets around D.C.
Kaygusuz said cooking allows her to share her Turkish culture with the Georgetown community.
“It’s a lot of students here,” Kaygusuz said in an interview with The Hoya. “They are all coming from different places, so everyone gets to try a different world. I thought it would be a good idea to cook my Turkish food and serve them.”
Among other Turkish dishes, Borek-G sells borek, which are savory Turkish pastries made of thin flakey dough and filled with various meats and cheeses. Borek-G sells their spinach and cheese and feta cheese boreks each week at the market.
Elizabeth Chabra opened Yoga in a Bowl to bring Indian dishes — such as tandoori chicken bowls and Kati rolls — to the D.C. Metro area.
Chabra said she initially anticipated selling Indian condiments at the market.
“We were trying out selling nice traditional Indian chutney. And the next thing I know, somebody called me to this market and I said, okay, the kids are really hungry,” Chabra said in an interview with The Hoya. “They’re not exactly interested in having gourmet Indian condiments.”
Chabra said she uses family recipes, but developed many of the recipes herself, like her kati rolls which have been recognized by the Washington Post.
“I just kind of created this crazy formula with bowls and kati rolls,” Chabra said. “Now kati Rolls is an Indian Street food, but I made a more healthy version of it. We make all our sauces, we make everything from scratch.”
Claudia Soto, one of the owners of DMV empanadas, is from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and said she enjoys sharing her culture through food.
“We’re very proud to sell authentic products with the flavors of our country,” Soto said. “We have different flavors for different people.”
Griffen Anderson, an employee of Bun’d Up said he enjoys participating in the GUFM because of the camaraderie among vendors.
“Every time I come here, I recognize people, and I know their names and things about their life,” Anderson said in an interview with The Hoya. “At other farmers markets, it’s kind of like you get in and you get out. The consistency of vendors here makes it feel like more of a community.”
Yvette Posada, who has traveled to GUFM with Timber Pizza for about four years, noted that there is a clear sense of community within GUFM.
“I like that there’s a lot of people and a lot of students who love us, and we love them,” Posada told The Hoya. “We love this market.”
Return From COVID-19
GUFM Director Francesca Donovan said GUFM struggled to keep in touch with vendors after campus closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020.
“It was really difficult maintaining relationships with vendors and having our composting start again, that was hard,” Donovan said in an interview with The Hoya.
According to Hale, the market featured about 20 vendors prior to the pandemic.
“It was just a lot more vibrant,” Hale said. “With COVID-19, we always had to downsize with all the tents in Red Square.”
The market opened Oct. 6, 2021, with limited space for vendors. Last fall, GUFM was only given approval by the university one week before the market’s anticipated start date, Donovan said. GUFM has been working on growing the market since then.
“We’re kind of able to start expanding back to our former glory and we’ve brought back some of our favorite vendors from freshman year,” Hale said in an interview with The Hoya.
Rhita Akhardid, who founded Rita’s Crepes after moving to the United States from Germany in 1996, said starting her own business in a new country was an emotional hurdle due to a wealth of unknowns, something that she faced again during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the time the pandemic hit, Rita’s Crepes visited nine different farmers markets, all of which suddenly stopped due to the pandemic, Akhardid said.
“They all completely stopped, and I had three trucks going each Sunday, Saturday, and Friday. And the drivers were not driving anymore,” Akhardid said in an interview with The Hoya. “That was a big impact.”
Akhardid said she has enjoyed returning to Georgetown after the GUFM reopened.
“The energy in this square and the students coming by in deep thought,” Akhardid said. “That really is a pleasure.”
In 2020, Borek-G opened a storefront in Falls Avenue, Virginia, which sells coffee, groceries, and Turkish dishes. The store opened in the midst of the pandemic, said Kaygusuz.
“We had some hard times,” Kaygusuz said. “We had a lot of debt, so it was so, so hard. I can’t even explain.”
Thankfully, Kaygusuz said the situation is getting better with the support of her customers and close friends from her church.
“They always come and support us,” Kaygusuz said. “Things are on the rise now. They’re getting better.”
Reaching the Greater D.C. Area
This year, GUFM has expanded its options to include vendors like Dreaming Out Loud Inc, which sells fresh produce to students. Although fruits are the highest seller, students can find a variety of locally grown produce at the stand.
Dan Townes and Keyrel Williams work as a team to represent Dreaming Out Loud at GUFM.
Williams said Dreaming Out Loud provides students with a convenient way to buy fruits and vegetables during their busy weeks.
“I’m glad we’re here so we can get y’all some fresh produce much faster,” Williams said in an interview with The Hoya. “You really need to have nutritious meals to be able to do your work and pass your exams.”
The produce is priced based on grocery store prices but includes a small markup, Williams said. However, their non-profit status means that all profits are donated to their causes, which include combating food deserts in the District.
“Our mission is to eliminate food deserts and increase food accessibility, especially in low-income neighborhoods,” Townes said in an interview with The Hoya. “We focus mostly in wards five, seven, and eight, but we’re trying to expand which is why we’re here.”
Food deserts are geographic areas where 33% or more of residents must travel an inconvenient distance — a mile or more in urban areas and 10 miles in rural areas — to reach the nearest supermarket or grocery store. Food deserts make up 11% of the entire area of the District.
Townes said Dreaming Out Loud is also dedicated to supporting Black farmers.
“We try to focus on Black farmers because they’re not given as many incentives and stuff as other farmers are,” Townes said. “So at least 50% of the produce you see on this table is grown on a Black farm.”
Dreaming Out Loud works throughout the D.C. area, something many other vendors are hoping to expand to through opening physical storefronts.
Still, the GUFM draws vendors back year after year.
“It’s the energy, it’s amazing,” Chabra said. “We love it here, we feel young again.”
John Long says
Way to go Lauren …sharp articulate and very informative…