Illegal Farmers Market?

Photo by PoPville flickr user sophiagrrl

I was pretty surprised to see the following note on the MPD 4D listserv:

“Does anyone have any suggestions as to whom to call about the illegal farmers market in the parking lot of Mayor Fenty s campaign hq? The police won t do anything despite complaints to uniformed officers, 911 and 311. They are selling stolen merchandise and handling food without gloves. There no permits displayed anywhere and they are open 7 days a week. Is this operation a part of Mr. Fenty s campaign? If not, why is it allowed to operate? If it is, should he be selling stolen merchandise? So, can someone tell me to whom I can complain that will lead to action?”

Lots of people asked how the complaintant could know if the goods were stolen.

MPD Chief Dianne Groomes replied:

“Good evening Sir – I have sent an inquiry to DCRA to see if there is a permit for the below Farmers Market that has operated for months …and operated for years on the weekends….they can also send an inspector out for the handling of food items… . MPD can check on the stolen goods you are referring to but please advise what table (merchandise) to inspect for most tables have fruit and food items for sale .. (I will have 4d email you direct for further information on the stolen goods and your statement/evidence of such)”

Another resident writes:

“I have found out that it is not illegal because they are on private property and therefore do not need permits.”

Pretty wild, has anyone ever heard of an illegal Farmers Market before? It’s funny because I only think of positive connotations when I hear ‘Farmers Markets’. Stealing cows used to be punishable by death back in the day…

27 Comment

  • You know as much as I believe in law and order, I really get annoyed by people who feel that they need to get all righteous over laws technically being broken even when nobody is being hurt in any way whatsoever.

    Is someone being hurt by this farmer’s market, whether or not it’s technically being operated illegally? The parking lot is privately owned. Wouldn’t the owner of the parking lot be the one to file a complaint if they cared?

    Bringing the cops down on here accomplishes: using limited police resources for a non-problem, and eliminating a market that is probably of high value to many people.

    The “benefits” that I can think of would be forcing these people to get a business license in DC if they don’t have one already (which is an expensive process that is unfriendly towards small businesses), and most likely shutting them down from that location no matter what, assuming it’s privately owned and the owner doesn’t want to get involved one way or the other.

    Nobody really wins here. I’m sure someone will cite some instance of a person getting sick from eating an organic tomato sold without a business license or something. So anyway without the market, the people who used to shop there can just go eat at McDonald’s across the street instead.

    • “You know as much as I believe in law and order, I really get annoyed by people who feel that they need to get all righteous over laws technically being broken even when nobody is being hurt in any way whatsoever.”

      This statement could apply to many things that we have criminalized over the years. People want DCMPD to exercise the broken windows theory until…they don’t.

  • I’d guess this is a odd veiled barb tossed at Fenty, mentioned in the email. His campaign HQ is right there, ironically enough in a building that was never redeveloped due to his inept leadership (and Bowser of course).

  • its definintely not a “farmers market” like you imagine. There is one orange/citrus stand, the same products you can buy at safeway 5 blocks down, and then the rest is set up with random flea market type tables. It almost feels like an outdoor pawn shop. I drive past it every day and it is just the weirdest thing (I actually just commented about it to my friend).

    • I bought Clementines there yesterday, and peanuts. Note the Farmers Market sign actually applies to what happens there on weekends, the daily produce sales are a recent addition.

  • +1 on that. This whole complaint smacks of the neighborhood busybody who peers out his/her blinds and imagines all kinds of nefarious, malicious deeds in the most trivial events.

    I’d also love to know how they know the items are stolen. The complainer probably will tell you there a bunch of “illegals” working there too. And they’re all talking too loud and standing on my grass!

  • “You know as much as I believe in law and order, I really get annoyed by people who feel that they need to get all righteous over laws technically being broken even when nobody is being hurt in any way whatsoever.”

    I feel ya dude. I feel the same way about people who call the cops and say “um yeah hi, there’s 2 guys smoking marijuana on the stoop”. People suck.

  • you can have an “illegal” market if you fail to get required permits…see for an example.

    I have no idea what’s required of the one in 4D.

  • What farmer’s market isn’t on private property? How can that be the determining factor?

    • Ummm…just about all of them. Dupont, Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights, U Street, Bloomingdale, Mt. Vernon Square are all on public property.

      • Well, the one in Dupont is certainly not. It’s in a parking lot, unless it’s moved since last I was there. U St? I think you are referring to the one on 9th (or thereabouts) and it’s in…wait for it…a parking lot. I don’t know about these others, but I think you will find that the great majority of farmer’s markets in the area are on private property, often parking lots.

        • jburka

          “It’s in a parking lot”? Did you not notice the way they close down 20th Street between P and Q and set up booths on both sides of the street? Or the booths on the sidewalk on the Circle side of the bank?

          The one on U street is on the public sidewalk extending west and north around the 14th and U corner of the Reeves building.

          Then there’s the Penn Quarter market, which shuts down a block of 8th Street every Thursday afternoon.

          Oh, and what about the Bloomingdale farmer’s market? That’s on, essentially, a little median.

          And what may be the best-known farmer’s market in the country thanks to Michelle Obama’s involvement, the White House farmer’s market shuts down a block of Vermont Avenue once a week.

  • My neighbor said thieves used to take pillowcases full of grapes from her garden and sell them 2 blocks away on the street. Not sure if I’d call it a farmer’s market though.

  • how does the person complaining about this know that the goods are stolen? they steal them every day? fresh stolen produce for real? and yes farmer markets are in public areas not in private.

  • Non-problem.


  • I don’t consider myself a busybody, but I do think people should be required to follow the law. Farmer’s markets should be handling food safely. Every kind of business should submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to obtain a business license, regardless of whether or not they have the property owner’s permission to operate at that location.

    But I also think the complaints should go to the proper authority–regulatory affairs office and the department of health. And the complaints should be restricted to that which the complainant KNOWS, and I’m not sure how this letter-writer knows for certain that the food is stolen .

    captcha: good smidgin

  • vegetables grow in dirt. I’m not too worried about people handling them without gloves.

    On the other hand, do be sure to always wash your melons before you slice into them. Weird but true – the knife can carry salmonella in from the rind.

    • Now THAT is a useful tip, Victoria. I often don’t wash fruits that I won’t be using the rind for anything. Sounds stupid, but I never thought of it.


      (and if this comes across as sarcastic it’s not meant to be.)

  • I will now make it a point to buy there. Seriously. Just to spite the bubble boy who went out of his/her way to complain about the “illegality” of it all. No gloves? I don’t use gloves when I buy my vegetables at Whole Foods, either. May you choke on your antiseptic life…

  • Have any of you been by this ‘market’? It is NOT a farmers market – it’s a few unlicensed produce vendors [not farmers] and some dudes selling used electronics, tools and crap. General pawn shop type stuff without that pesky background/serial number check. Had your car or garage broken into recently? May want to check here.

    • “General pawn shop type stuff without that pesky background/serial number check.”

      Just for the record, the only thing that you need to do a “background/serial number check” on before selling is a gun.

      You know there are hundreds if not thousands of garage sales, thrift stores, and flea markets that operate around the area every day, legally, and not a single thing you buy from any of them will have “papers.”

      I’m not saying that the stuff they are selling *isn’t* stolen. I have no idea. But neither do I have any idea if the stuff they sell at Eastern Market is stolen. There is no law the requires having proof of ownership when you sell most things.

      • Anyone selling or auctioning anything used as a business in DC technically has to have a pawn license. Getting this license includes a background check/police interview by MPD’s pawn unit. It also requires you to record all serial numbers of items obtained and sold so MPD can review this record to try to track stolen merchandise by running these serial numbers against records of reported thefts. So you’re right – it’s not the same background/# check that firearms transfers have, but there’s at least some attempt to make sure people aren’t fencing stolen goods. I don’t think anyone is recommending yard sales be banned, and I’m not sure if there are exemptions for ‘flea markets’, but I do know a few businesses and individuals who found their stolen property at the 9th and U St flea market. I don’t think it’s really a whole lot to ask that folks making a business out of selling used merchandise get checked out – maybe have DCRA/MPD offer a one day or one month streamlined secondhand license.

  • Somebody needs a hobby!

  • Stolen Merchandise. I was looking over the items on one of the flea market type tables and found a Casio watch like the one stolen from me while in hospital. While playing with it I found my private email address in the memory.
    As for whaterever else is going on there I don’t care.
    Now, as for my comments about Mr. Fenty. Yes, I don’t care for him or his stooge, Ms. Bowser.

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