Lakeside Farmers’ Market
Celebrating Ten Years
by Charles McGuigan
Drop by Lakeside Farmers’ Market any Wednesday or Saturday, and chances are you’ll find owners Sharon and Peter Francisco, mingling with customers and vendors; or you might find them seated in a couple of chairs next to the gently rotating water wheel, soothing as a Zen lullaby.
“It’s a milestone to have ten seasons of the market behind us,” says Sharon on a recent Saturday morning. Just behind us, a red-haired girl starts playing the fiddle, mainly Irish airs, and she’s really good.
Sharon explains why she and her husband Peter, who sits in the chair next to hers, decided to open the market a decade ago. ”We started it because we felt that it was a good catalyst for revitalization,” she says. “We started at about the time Short Pump Town Center and Stony Point were starting, and we were afraid Lakeside might be left behind. This was another way to bring customers to the retail area and also to provide food for the community.”
She points out that when Martin’s closes at Brook Run Shopping Center this summer, Northsiders will have fewer options for grocery shopping. “We’re going to actually be in a food desert here,” she says. “We’re not going to have grocery stores, so we hope that more and more people will come to the market because of that.”
And you can purchase everything you need for your panty and table at this farmers’ market, either under the outdoor pavilion, or at Lakeside Farmers’ Market Too, which is located inside the Town Centre. Some twenty to thirty vendors, depending on the time of year, offer a complete range of vegetables, fruit, preserves, honey, dairy products, (including ice cream) chips, nuts, meat, poultry and fish. Even goat milk soap and fresh cut flowers. What’s more, unlike most products at big box grocery stores, the offerings at Lakeside Farmers’ Market are locally produced, and in many cases, fresh as yesterday.
Some of the produce is so local that there is no carbon footprint left behind at all, no fossil fuels burned to transport it here. About the only evidence are human footprints on the asphalt, because this farm is a scant 272 feet from the market. Kyle Anderber grows a whole assortment of produce on an acre-parcel directly behind the farmers’ market.
“It’s called Lakeside’s Tiny Acre,” says Sharon. “Kyle’s worked with urban farming, and he’s very knowledgeable and he uses only organic practices. He actually lets people go back there and see what he’s doing. He has a greenhouse that he does some of the early plants in.” Even the compost he uses is part of an essay in sustainability. Tony Ammendolia, owner of Lakeside’s award-winning craft brewery, gives the spent hops and grains, once a batch is brewed, to Kyle who uses it in his compost. So much of the Farmers’ Market is about sustainability, a local effort that helps the nation resist a president who has idiotically backed us out of the Paris Agreement.
The market is open nine till three on Wednesdays, and from eight to noon on Saturdays. And the crowds have grown steadily. It’s not unusual for a thousand people to come to the market on Saturdays. “Some of our customers have been with us since the beginning, but we see a lot of new faces every week,” Sharon says. “We like to see the community coming together. It’s really for all of Northside, and Peter and I grew up in the Northside. I grew up on Avondale in Bellevue and taught at Ginter Park School. Peter grew up on Seminary. And we still belong to Christ Ascension Episcopal Church.”
Sharon’s husband, Peter, has been actively involved in the rebirth of Lakeside for decades. He and his wife, both visionaries, saw the establishment of the Lakeside Farmers’ Market as a perfect draw for the business corridor known as Lakeside Avenue. And the Franciscos anted up.
“The land and the structure cost about half a million dollars,” Peter tells me. “At the time we built, as Sharon said, Stoney Point and Short Pump Town Center were coming up, and every bit of attention was put on those places. Lakeside is a shopping district that could have been easily forgotten, and now we’re known as a place to go to find certain things and the community comes here to shop. We not only have the market, but we have over a hundred independently owned businesses.”
Sharon nods to her husband’s words. “It’s one of the last places that an independent entrepreneur can go and start a business and do it at some of the lowest rent rates out there,” she says. “And we have a lot of female entrepreneurs here, and they feel safe and comfortable.”
“And we’re not like Carytown, because we have parking,” Peter says. “You can ride a bike, you can walk, you can drive a car, and there’s something for everybody. It’s on a flat surface, and it’s handicap accessible.”
“We are the only permanent farmers’ market in Henrico,” Peter adds. “We own the land that has a structure that is designed as a farmers’ market. Even when the market isn’t opened it’s still a farmers’ market. That is the only intended purpose of this pavilion.”
Over the years, Lakeside Farmers’ Market has consistently received kudos across the state and throughout the country. “We were listed as one of the top markets in the nation,” Peter says. “We were selected as the top market in Virginia, one of the top twenty in America.”
The Franciscos themselves, because of their unending support of Lakeside, have received numerous awards over the years. “We were selected as the community leaders of the year by the Henrico County Chamber of Commerce back in 2008, the same year we opened the market. We’ve gotten awards for some of the development we’ve done, and Keep Henrico Beautiful recognized us as a clean business award. HPAC gave us an award for historic preservation.”
Vendors at Lakeside Farmers’ Market accept EBT. “This is one of the reasons we have such great variety,” says Sharon. “People using EBT don’t have to go somewhere else because transportation is an issue.”
Which brings Peter to the ten bike racks in front of the market that can accommodate forty bicycles. “We got a small grant from Virginia Tech to put up the bike racks, and their idea is that people who are on SNAP have got limited transportation to get to market to shop. They may have to walk or ride a bike or rely on somebody’s car to get there. They gave us a small grant to put the ten bike racks in and that was a $10,000 project.”
As I walk through the market I see a number of vendors who have been here since the very beginning. Among them is Terri Levandoski. She is surrounded by cut flowers–black-eyed Susans, gaillardia, feverfew, penstemon, money plant, euphorbia, larkspur, dianthus, yarrow, and love-in- the-mist—all cut from her own garden in Valentine Hills just two miles to the north.
Terri remembers what she was thinking not long before the market opened ten years ago: ”Somebody’s got to enjoy these flowers I grow. I’m going to stand on the side of the road with a big straw hat and sell flowers.” But she didn’t have to do that. Once Lakeside Farmers’ Market announced it was opening, Terri became one of the first four vendors there. This is the same woman who creates the arrangements for all the tables at Stir Crazy every Monday.
“I sell only fresh cut flowers that I grow,” she says,” “They don’t come from South America.”
Lakeside Farmers’ Market
Wednesday, 9-3; Saturday, 8-noon
6110 Lakeside Avenue
Richmond, VA 23228