Colin Mills: Enjoying Reston’s Tastiest Tradition

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In the middle of a rainy and dreary week like this, it’s only natural to think ahead toward the weekend. I’m very excited about this weekend. Not just because warmth and sunshine are scheduled to make a reappearance, but also because one of my favorite Reston traditions is getting started again: the Reston Farmers Market opens for the season on Saturday, and I can’t wait to go. There’s not a lot that can get me out of the house on Saturday morning, but this is well worth the trip.

It’s hard to believe that the Farmers Market has been around for 16 years; it doesn’t seem like that long. But the market, under the able supervision of my good friend John Lovaas, has grown into a Reston institution, a place for the community to come together and enjoy local produce, meats, and more.

Farmers markets and Reston go way back. I remember the Reston Farmers Market on Baron Cameron when I was a kid, across from the Pet-A-Pet Farm (today’s Reston Zoo). My family used to stop in there from time to time to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables; the sweet summer corn was especially delicious.

The best time of year to visit the farmers market, hands down, was Halloween. We always picked out our pumpkins there, trundling the little red wagons among the rows of beautiful gourds. We went into the back of the store to fill our gallon jug with apple cider (so sweet and delicious; we drank it in the fall and I dreamed about it the rest of the year). 

And best of all, my sister and I got to climb Fort Pumpkin! This was a contraption constructed out of hay bales and decorated with pumpkins, perfect for kids to burn off some energy running and climbing while Mom was finishing up the shopping. When I reached the top of the fort and looked out toward the horizon, even though I couldn’t have been more than 20 feet off the ground, I felt like I could see forever. Fort Pumpkin was my favorite thing about Halloween, even more than the candy.  (Okay, maybe tied with the candy.)

What the Reston Farmers Market lacks in whimsical hay-bale forts, it makes up for in diverse, delicious food offerings. Sometimes, I’ll walk through and pick up everything I need for lunch or dinner right there at the market.

Maybe we’ll have Gunpowder bison steaks, fresh green beans, and a salad with juicy tomatoes and goat cheese from Cherry Glen, dressed with a vinaigrette from Wisteria Gardens. Or perhaps we’ll have sandwiches, sausage from Valentines on artisan bread from Baguette Republic. If I’ve got a sweet tooth, maybe pick up something from A Bit More or Grace’s Pastries for dessert. I love one-stop shopping for my meals.

Another thing I love about farmers market shopping is being introduced to something I haven’t tried before.  For instance, last year I tried ramps for the first time after picking them up at the market. Ramps are wild leeks; they look kind of like scallions with big leaves on top. I tried them raw and cooked, and I loved their earthy, pungent, peppery flavor. I can’t wait to see what new discoveries I might run across this year.

I’m not the only one in my family who’s looking forward to the market’s opening. My wife loves to shop there, and we’re both hoping that the selection will inspire us to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet. My daughter, meanwhile, is particularly fond of the Cherry Glen goat cheese (she loves to eat it on Ritz crackers for a snack) and the black bean dip from Wisteria Gardens. If I go to the market without her and forget to pick up the black-bean dip, I know she won’t forgive me.

The market is more than just a chance to pick up tasty locally-grown food; it’s also a great social opportunity.  You never know who you might run into at the market. Prominent Restonians like Bob Simon and Ken Plum often stop by, and if you’re hoping to run into your neighbor on Saturday morning, the market is a good place to look.

The Saturday farmers farket serves a function a lot like the plazas in Bob’s original vision of Reston; it gets people out of their cars and interacting with each other.  I’m always in favor of anything that foster community conversations, and the market definitely does that.

I also love the fact that the market is held at Lake Anne.  It’s our oldest village center, and it’s still my favorite place in Reston.  The farmers market has done a great job drawing people over to Lake Anne who might not have gone otherwise. I think it’s no coincidence that Lake Anne has been on an upward swing since the market got started in 1998. And I’m also really glad to know that the market will still have a home in the revitalized and expanded Lake Anne Village Center that’s coming soon.

While you’re at the Farmers Market, it’s also worth stopping by the craft market that takes place on the plaza itself. That market features local arts and crafts. Walking through there makes me think of a Middle Eastern bazaar. It’s well worth a stroll to see what you might find.

I hope you’ll be headed out to the Lake Anne Farmers Market on Saturday morning. And if you see me there, checking out the produce or sampling the goat cheese offerings, stop by and say hello.  We’re neighbors, after all.  Bob would approve.

Colin Mills is the president of Reston Citizens Association. His column runs weekly on Reston Now.

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