In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, a group of female Maryland farmers were looking for a way to support themselves and their families through farming. They began with one food stand, which became so successful they soon moved into a small white building on Wisconsin Avenue. Over 70 years later, the continued success of the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market shows the decision was a good one.
The market’s tradition of being managed by women has not changed through the years, and there are no plans to change any time soon. Market manager Barbara Johnson points out that at the Women’s Market, “Once you get a stand, you get married to the market.” Some women have been there for 50 years and their families now assist in selling goods at the year-round, three-times-a-week market.
Other aspects of the market, like what types of food are sold, have changed. Today the market is known as a unique, community place to buy prepared food – not as a traditional farmers market with fresh, locally grown produce. About two thirds of the 26 vendors, only four of whom are men, sell prepared food made from either home-grown or store-bought ingredients. The fact that customers can buy all the food they need or want–ranging from cakes to potato salads to vegetables–is viewed as one of the market’s greatest assets. The only restriction on food sold is that each vendor must sell different items than the other vendors.
The market may not be the best place to purchase local food, but it is a terrific example of how 22 women can turn their skills preparing food, whether through farming or baking, into a profitable business connected to generations of loyal customers.