Ann Yonkers is not the average organic farmer.
Dressed in stylish business attire, she presented 30 students with graphs, statistics, and an expandable business model at a Saybrook Master’s Tea Thursday. Yonkers is the co-director of FreshFarm Markets, a nonprofit organization that promotes the local selling of crops from the Chesapeake Bay region in Virginia. The organization’s first market in DuPont Circle has a yearly customer base of more than 100,000 locals and has expanded to ten other farmers’ markets in the D.C. area, thanks to Yonkers’ meticulous management.
Her project started when Yonkers and her husband, Charles Yonkers ’63, bought a small farm in Maryland in 1991. Her inspiration for FreshFarm Markets came the following year, after tasting her first crop of asparagus.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is a completely different food,’” she said, comparing it to her local grocer’s asparagus.
As a trained, professional cook, Yonkers has a self-described passion for food, and said she was quick to realize that local, organic farmers offered the best produce. With this in mind, she began her mission to teach the “eco-culinary” connection, which she describes as the inherent relationship between fresh produce and good cooking.
In 1997 Yonkers began FreshFarm Markets, and today the organization provides local produce to 350,000 people in the D.C. area per year.
But Yonkers’ true success came from her management style, which involves keeping detailed records of every part of her markets, from the amount of food sold to the amount of money made by the hosting town.
“When you’re trying to show the power of the farmers’ markets, it’s really important that you’re able to talk the talk,” Yonkers said. “One of the problems with farmers’ markets is that we often don’t know what they’re doing,”
Thanks in part to Yonkers’ innovative record-keeping, FreshFarm Markets has been able to expand rapidly, organizing three new markets in the last year alone.
Yonkers also attributed a lot of her success to the social atmosphere of the markets, which she said is much more upbeat than the average supermarket.
“Pleasure is a huge part of it. Just compare the open air with fluorescent lighting,” concurred Deborah Koons Garcia, director of the film “Symphony of the Soil.”
Both Yonkers and Koons Garcia are visiting Yale to promote the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Yonkers noted in her speech that her goal for the Tea was simply to create energy for the cause.
Audience members interviewed said they were impressed by how Yonkers used her organizational skills in a field that many consider lackadaisical.
“She seems like exactly what the food movement needs,” said Leland Whitehouse ’14. “She’s got vision and experience on both sides of the market, and she’s obviously on a mission.”
After the talk, Yonkers had a dinner with about ten students in the Saybrook master’s suite. Kamens said he looked forward to the opportunity, noting that Saybrook often hosts speakers who are concerned with organic, sustainable agriculture.
“My wife, Dean Miller, and I are very committed to good, sustainable food,” said Kamens, hungrily eying the dinner being set in his home.
Last year FreshFarm Markets sold a total of $7.8 million worth of produce in its local markets.