Like any good farmer's market, it's the smell you notice first
From a block away, it's freshly baked bread wafting down, warm and pleasantly overwhelming on a crisp fall Sunday.
Closer, though, the aroma splits into different notes — roasting coffee on one side, fresh pastries on the other.
If there's one thing Bethesda Central Farm Market doesn't lack, it's variety.
Variety is what co-founder Mitch Berliner says sets his market apart from competitors. Open on Sundays, his three-year-old Bethesda staple is on Elm Street between Woodmont and Wisconsin avenues.
“We have the most comprehensive mix of vendors — farmers, artisan producers," he said. "That is no question. You could just look."
That comprehensive mix will be sticking around 52 Sundays a year now, Berliner said — a move to satisfy customers who just can't get through the winter without their organic kale and five-pound rounds of cheese.
This is certainly not the typical spread of baked goods and produce. At one stand, a vendor is handing a head of broccoli the size of a soccer ball to a gleeful customer clutching a plastic bag. There's pasta, chocolate and a table full of plates of Jonagold and Honeycrsip apples —with the grower recommending which are for baking and which are for snacking, of course.
There's a fish guy, a flower guy and a knife-sharpening guy. There’s a local Maryland winery and a wood-burning pizza truck. There's even a handcrafted pickle stand — two of them, in fact, featuring barrels full of kosher dill and half-sours. The street is teeming with dogs and strollers, couples and families.
And the scene wouldn't be properly set, of course, without a dreadlocked dude in shades crooning Elton John through a portable mic.
Berliner also features his own company, MeatCrafters, which sells fresh, cured, cooked or smoked meats. Displayed on the table Sunday morning were organic beef jerky, duck prosciutto and truffle salami, all delicately cut and pressed flat in plastic.
The Farm Market was unable to go year-round last year, Berliner said, because its original location in a parking lot off Elm Street was undergoing construction. The market was open year-round its first year, but on a limited basis — only 15 vendors participated in the warm months, and few stayed on when temperatures dipped.
Now the market has 35 vendors -- all from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania -- with at least 20 planning to brave the winter months, Berliner said.
Allison Krumsiek works for Bees 'n Blossoms, a Virginia company that specializes in honey and jam. The winter won't be too difficult for their products.
"When it gets cold, the honey can get hard to pour," she said. But they'll be staying on anyway, keeping their jars in the sun and warm in the car if needed.
The same goes for All Things Olive, which features more than a dozen kinds of olive oil and nine kinds of wine vinegar: They'll just fire up the propane heater, said owner Keith Voight.
Those selling meat, fish, poultry, baked goods and eggs will stay on with no issue, Berliner said. As for the produce out of season, Berliner said greenhouses with controlled temperatures and humidity keep apples from going mealy and heirloom tomatoes, herbs, lettuce and pears fresh through April.
But in the end, it's the fiercely loyal customer base — and the sense of community that pervades the bustling street every Sunday — that Berliner hopes will keep the market successful all year round.
"Once you have enough loyalty, people really want to show their loyalty and come out," he said. "We have people that come nearly every single week, never ever miss it."
That includes Stacey McLaughlin, 29, who was picking up her weekly flowers and cider Sunday with boyfriend Daniel Greenlee, 39, both Bethesda natives. "It's sort of my Sunday ritual," McLaughlin said.
The Bethesda Central Farm Market is open Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Bethesda Lane between Elm Street and Bethesda Avenue; Fridays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington, D.C., and year-round on Sundays on Elm Street between Woodmont and Wisconsin avenues.