Photo from Farm Women's Market.

Montgomery County’s Oldest Market: The Farm Women’s Cooperative in Bethesda

01/25/2017
By Preservation Maryland

On the busy corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Willow Lane in Bethesda sits the Farm Women’s Cooperative Market, a Montgomery County institution celebrating the 85th anniversary of their opening day in 1932.

PART OF A NATIONAL MOVEMENT

At the onset of the Great Depression, farmers’ wives looked for a new way to sell farm goods to support their families. Montgomery County farms were already struggling from a drop in farm prices and a drought. Local women in home demonstration clubs, organizations of female farmers who received government-sponsored training in home economics, gained the support of the University of Maryland Extension Service and the Club Council to form a market. The women worked with agriculturists and nutritionists to select the products they wanted to sell and standardize their production. The experts graded products the women proposed for sale, ensuring high quality from the outset. Advertisements for canned fruits, jellies, jams, pies, cakes and cookies spread throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

Opening day on February 4, 1932 in an old store at Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda proved a tremendous success. Despite shifting to several temporary locations over the spring and summer of that year, the market continued to grow.

 

Historic image of the Market interior stalls.

The original group of 19 women divided after their leader, Blanche Corwin, an employee of the Extension Service, was fired on the grounds that she was devoting too much of her time to the market. Those that opposed Corwin’s termination tried unsuccessfully to establish a new market. Most of the women, however, continued under the leadership of the new Home Demonstration Agent, Edythe M. Turner. By late 1932, the cooperative had generated enough money to move into a permanent building at its current location, which owner Leon Arnold had constructed especially for the market. In 1935, the co-op decided to purchase the building before it went to sale, so Market President Julian Waters approached a Baltimore bank for a $50,000 loan. Although her request was initially dismissed, the bank president visited the Market several weeks later and found it so successful, he immediately offered the money.

Market sign. Photo from Keys of Bethesda.

THE MARKET IS OPEN YEAR ROUND

While you’ll want to make sure to check out the Market this spring and summer, it’s also open now! Winter hours include an outdoor flea market on Sundays, and the marketing building is open on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Please check their website for additional information.

Many vendors from around the region have joined the co-op over the years. Vendors sell craft beer, local wine, fresh meat and poultry, fruits and vegetables, flowers, jams, baked goods, chocolates, spices, crafts, and artwork. Small restaurants sell barbecue, Indian cuisine, and other delicious lunch choices. The market also often features live music and food trucks. Market president Barbara Johnson, a patron since 1960, tells visitors that “it’s still going strong,” a sure sign that Montgomery County’s oldest farmers’ market will continue to remain a local landmark.

This post was researched and written by Kyle Fisher, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. Kyle’s work with us focuses on research and communications. He has a BA in Communications and History from Virginia Tech and a MA in Social Studies Education from Loyola University Maryland. Learn more about Kyle and our intern program here: presmd.org/waxter.

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