It’s 12:17 p.m. on a humid Thursday in mid-July. A line is snaking around Thai Heaven, one of a dozen pop-up tent eateries pitched along the brick walkway between the Johns Hopkins Hospital cancer research buildings. Employees, patients and community members chat, joke and check their phones — no doubt hoping their turn to order food is fast approaching.
Welcome to the Johns Hopkins Hospital Farmers Market. Rain or shine, the market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday through November 3.
Aromas waft through the pavilion — fresh pizzas, kabobs, Haitian rice bowls and other delicacies — whetting appetites. Laughter and conversation abound outside the commissaries that line the sloped walkway. There are also snacks for sale, such as peanuts and trail mix, as well as teas, fragrant soaps, body lotions and plants.
Among the regular patrons are Johns Hopkins labor and delivery nurses Lajuana Willis and Mayumi Shigeno, who praise the freshness of the food and produce. “My favorite is the spicy Thai basil chicken,” says Willis.
That’s not all the two nurses relish about the weekly lunch offerings. “We love the open air, after intense moments in the OR,” says Shigeno. “We sure missed it during the pandemic.”
The farmers market also serves as the host site for the community supported agriculture (CSA) program of Crooked Fence Farm. Participating employees, staff members and students can pick up their shares of organic produce at the weekly market, adding items like flowers, bread and knitted items if they choose. “The kale is amazing, and so is the kohlrabi,” says Willis, who, like Shigeno, participates in the CSA based in Upperco, Maryland.
As assistant director of mail distribution and sustainability at the hospital, Roderick Toney remains a constant presence at the farmers market. Back in 2019, he advocated for the weekly event as a convenience to staff and to improve access to fresh produce. “We’re proud to provide fresh fruits and produce to the surrounding community and employees at the market, and hope we can continue to support our vendors,” he says.
Toney and his co-workers are enthusiastic about the market. “We look forward to Thursdays,” says mail services manager Lakeysha Richardson, “especially because we work on the towline, and it feels so good to take that long walk, inhale the fresh air and enjoy the fresh foods outdoors.” She’s fond of the offerings at BricknFire Pizza Company. “It’s so fresh and delicious,” she says.
Neurosciences patient service coordinator Tania Thomas-Robinson offers her take on the market experience: “El Piquin is my favorite,” she says. “They have the best burritos … and the donut stand: amazing.”
After finishing their lunch at a nearby picnic table, Willis and Shigeno make their way to a produce booth. Farmer Jaime Becerra, and his son, Rafael, rearrange hand-picked white corn, peaches, tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries from their farm, located in northern Virginia. The most popular item this year, says Rafael, is yellow watermelon, “It tastes the same as red watermelon, but people like the novelty of the yellow kind.”
Checking her watch, Willis tells Shigeno that they’d better head back to work. Suddenly, something catches Willis’ eye. “Ooh, look!” she says. “They have peanuts. We love peanuts!” Willis pays the vendor and is about to leave, when Shigeno spots a display of mini-cacti and other plants. “Wait: I’m getting this one for my office.”