It was the Charles Town Farmers Market that came first, before Bushel & Peck. Both the market and the grocery store are managed by the Jefferson Growers, Artisans, and Producers Coalition (Jefferson G.A.P.). In 2011, a group of local residents, including Fiona Harrison, Chip Ogden, Brian Bircher, and Todd Coyle, were thinking about how to improve the existing farmers market. Some of the concerns were simple — the former location was on a slight incline, which made it uncomfortable for both vendors and patrons. Some were more fundamental — a lack of variety. The committee held a public meeting and surveyed residents to ask “what do you want?” The responses, the follow-up planning and organization, and lots of support from the City of Charles Town — particularly the installation of electrical power — led to the current market that has been running successfully for 11 years (Saturday mornings, April to October, 100 block of South Samuel Street).
Todd Coyle, the chief executive of Jefferson G.A.P., recalls that the group learned a lot in the first few years. “People want the market to be a community gathering, not just a place for transactions. Having food you can consume right there, with live music, makes it more of an event every weekend. For the vendors, they want it to run like a business, with rules of conduct and accountability.” Coyle also remembered looking around the state to get ideas and being frustrated with the lack of data and support for farmers markets.
While the G.A.P. was revitalizing the farmers market, the City of Charles Town was debating what to do with the nearby Charles Washington Hall. The ground floor of the building had functioned as a market house when it was rebuilt in 1874 following the destruction of a prior structure during the Civil War. Over the course of the next 100 years, the building was heavily remodeled to house restaurants on the ground level and offices on the upper level. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the building had fallen into such a state of disrepair that demolition looked to be the best option.
After more than a decade of discussions, Charles Town figured out a more creative path that would enable it to rehabilitate the historic structure. When the project team approached G.A.P. about running a year-round market in the building, it offered a small, narrow space in the center of the ground floor. As the group worked through the details, they came to realize that that the market would need to be much larger to have a hope of being financially feasible. The original plans were heavily re-worked to configure the entire first floor as an open space, split between a restaurant (currently Ortega’s Taco Shop) in one third of the space and the grocery store filling the rest.
Coyle described Bushel & Peck when it opened in October 2017 as a “sustainable, locally focused grocery store in the heart of downtown Charles Town.” In a more recent conversation, he described a larger vision, with the grocery store as a “business incubator — the hub of a network of local businesses that need a way to connect with local consumers.” He recalls his own childhood, growing up locally and “having six markets in walking distance and eating food that grew right here. I see what we’re doing here as bringing back something that was almost forgotten, that you can have a local food system. The pandemic really brought that home — we kept the store open, we always had food, and we helped keep the local economy going.”
Asked about what’s next, Coyle noted that last year Jefferson G.A.P. had received a HFFI grant (Healthy Food Financing Initiative) from the United States Department of Agriculture and had used that money to start work on a plan for expanding the operation. “Our goal is to bring local foods to local people. There are a lot of people in Jefferson County we don’t reach and there is a lot of room to grow. Getting bigger will also help us to be more self-sustaining and bring more producers into the network.” He continued, “In contrast to ten years ago, the government is taking local food systems seriously, but we need a business plan before we can tap into that support.” The City directed $32,500 of federally-provided pandemic recovery funds to Jefferson G.A.P. to continue the plan development and Coyle indicates that he hopes to have a roadmap completed by the spring of 2023 — but whether it’s another location, a distribution facility, community gardens, or some other combination of facilities is still open for discussion.
Coyle also emphasized that he wants the community to participate in the next steps of the Jefferson G.A.P. “I’d welcome anyone who wants to join the board, especially with business planning and marketing expertise, to make this into something bigger. Particularly younger people, who might be inspired to build something special right here at home in Jefferson County.”
Bushel & Peck is located at 100 W Washington Street, in downtown Charles Town.By Staff Contributor, Steve Pearson