While the first D.C. Grey Market I attended had the atmosphere of an exclusive yet welcoming party, the one two Saturdays ago on July 17 was much more like a hipster farmers’ market (in a good way). As the market is designed specifically to highlight local, food-based businesses that are not fully licensed, it made perfect sense. Being in a parking lot or trendy bar made no difference to the fact that the Grey Market still maintained the friendly feel of home-grown business.
I was particularly excited for this Grey Market because it was on a Sunday. With his job as a line cook, my husband works every Friday and Saturday, making it impossible for him to attend many events. As he would one day like to run his own cafe, I thought that the Grey Market could be a great place to hawk his wares. It would allow him to see if the general public would be interested in buying his products without needing to rent a professional kitchen or making goods en masse. If he found a product worth pursuing, participating could even help him become official, as part of the market fee (a mere $2) goes directly towards helping small businesses get licensed.
As it turned out, we had a great time. One of the best parts of the Grey Market is the vast number of samples. As Chris has managed to make entire lunches out of mall food court samples, he thought it was fantastic. Among many others, we sampled chunks of whoopie pies from Downhome D.C. Baked Goods, bought curry stuffed mushrooms from Nataras’ Raw Vegan Foods, and ate mac and cheese and a crabcake from two different vendors that I sadly can’t recall.
The other great thing about the Grey Market is the willingness and interest of the vendors to talk to the attendees. Although farmers’ markets often tout the idea of “getting to know your farmer,” I’m sometimes a little intimidated for no real reason. But as most of the Grey Market vendors are just starting up, they love to share their enthusiasm for their food – and sell it to you as a bonus!
One of the most lovely stories was from candy company The Sweetness. One of the two owners talked about how his grandmother started making chocolates during WWII. Since then, she sent his family handmade candy for Christmas every year. Now, he’s carrying on the tradition with her recipes. Now, this would be a lovely but irrelevant story if the chocolates were “meh.” But as I had a sample of the chocolate-peanut-butter bon-bons and they were fantastic, the story just upped the “Wow!” factor.
Similarly, when I commented to Chris that the name of the business Late Night Jams was cute, the owner explained that it was truth-in-advertising. Because she has a 5-month-old son, the only time she ever had to make her products was after 10 PM!
Both these stories built that essential connection that is often missing or falsely created in our industrialized food system. Knowing your farmer is nice, but so is knowing your candymaker, your baker, your jam-maker and much, much more.
Of course, there’s room for fanciful thinking as well. Sra Hobbs’ Kick Ass Salsa has a whole story about a kick-boxing lady on the back of their business cards. Although she very well may be the originator of said salsa, neither of the two dudes manning the booth looked at all like her. Crunkcakes is another company that plays with expectations. Taking the current child-like fascination with cupcakes, Crunkcakes brings it to an adult level with alcohol-infused cakes and frostings. We had a “Dirty Pillow,” which was tres leches cake soaked in rum and topped with whipped cream. As the owner there said to a little girl eying their confections, “This is not kid-friendly.”
Overall, another successful Grey Market, hopefully one of many. With so many people under- or unemployed, I’m seeing more entrepreneurs than ever before, trying to find their own way in this tough economy. I wish them all the best of luck, and hope that I’ve been able to provide them a little boost.