Affordability, fairness key words at some farmers’ markets

By 
Alex Owens, Special to the Reporter
Aug. 20, 2009

With the scarcity of disposable income these days, organic and fair trade food shoppers may be wondering if social justice is worth the often higher prices at farmers’ markets. Nevertheless, markets in Dorchester and Mattapan are working to strike a balance between affordable local produce and fair prices for the farms that provide the goods.

It is possible to save a little money, depending on the neighborhood. Many of the local farms represented at these markets expressed a desire to serve the community in spite of profits, even going so far as to lower prices depending on the needs of the communities they are serving. Corn in Codman Square, for example, is usually 25 percent cheaper than the same corn in Copley Square, say farmers at Silverbrook Farm of Dartmouth, Mass..

“We want to give back to communities where fresh food is not always available,” said John Leach, a Silverbrook farmer, during a market in Mattapan. “It’s not about making money; it’s about bringing good food into the community,” he said.

More generally, the weekly farmers’ markets in Dorchester and Mattapan participate in several government assistance programs, from WIC to food stamps to Boston Bounty Bucks, a government subsidizing program that is usually spearheaded by a non-profit organization or community center. On Thursdays, vendors at the Bowdoin St. Market offer double value for food stamps, for example.

“We don’t have a lot of stores in this neighborhood for this kind of food,” said 16-year-old volunteer Kenise Davis at her neighborhood farmer’s market on Bowdoin St. “People need fresh veggies.”

Organizers of the Codman Square market mobilized community institutions and volunteers from the neighborhood to buy shares of farms to allow for lower prices at the market. “Sometimes it’s a little expensive, but it’s definitely worth it,” said 15-year-old Gabrielle Stevens, a volunteer in Codman Square.

“We [at Dorchester House] associate good health with good food. We believe that this food is good for our patients and good for the community,” said Mary Lynch, a nutritionist participating in Dorchester House’s farmer’s market. In its second year, Dorchester House seeks to partner with farms that have developed a sense of social responsibility, according to Lynch, such as reVision House, a transitional house for young mothers that grows food for the market.

“We have a financial mission, but we also have a social mission,” said Jolie Olivetti, a farmer from reVision House.