The annual farmers’ market is rapidly becoming a regular part of summer fare, joining cookouts, fireworks, and trips to the beach in the traditional lineup.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 12 new farmers’ markets are opening around the state this summer. In the Greater Boston Area, there are at least 65 operating markets, including one in Mattapan, and in Dorchester alone, there are already five, in Codman Square, Fields Corner, and Peabody Square and at Dorchester House and the Bowdoin Street Health Center. All of the markets are open weekly until October, rotating their products as the season wears on.
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“We are trying to promote healthy eating and activities around the community,” said Bowdoin St. Market manager Cathy Wirth. “We try to make these as fun and accessible as possible.”
Many of the markets are expanding beyond your run-of-the-mill tomatoes and lettuce. Several offer alternatives such as baked goods, honey and milk—even handbags and jewelry. Organizers at the Peabody Square market are considering a bicycle repair service for the last Friday of every month.
The idea of sustainable locally grown produce seems to be resonating with locals, resulting in more high-profile openings in the early summer. Last month, Mayor Thomas Menino attended the opening of a small farm stand on Blue Hill Ave. organized by members of a local nonprofit organization. The Peabody Square market held its grand opening, complete with a band and vegetable mascots, on Friday just down the street from the Ashmont MBTA station. The Bowdoin Street Market held a similar event for its grand opening last Thursday when the proprietors were joined by former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, and several local organizations, including a local Tae Kwon Do school, which gave a demonstration.
“I’ve always had an interest in the environment, so the farmers’ market was a good fit,” said Marybeth McCleod, a handbag vendor at the Peabody Square Market. McCleod’s company, My Recycled Handbag, has been with the market since its first season last year, selling jewelry, bible covers, and bags crafted from recycled materials.
Other markets keep to the traditional model. The Fields Corner Market has been around since 1978, and has changed little in those 32 years.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Fields Corner Market manager, Pat Cook. “Our market is doing pretty good surviving on good will and benign neglect.” With another one nearby at the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, the markets offer opportunities and locally grown ethnic vegetables to the large Vietnamese population in Fields Corner. This year, Dorchester House added a new vendor, Flats Mentor Farm, which sells Asian vegetables grown by Hmong farmers.
Despite the stereotype of pricy produce at markets, farmers and market organizers are working to keep the goods affordable.
“I really like this market,” said one Dorchester House shopper, Trudy Young. “My kids get to learn about and try new foods, and you get more for your buck.”
All of the Dorchester and Mattapan markets also offer some kind of government funded discount program to shoppers, specifically Boston Bounty Bucks, a city program that provides food stamp users with a 50 percent discount.
In addition many farms and markets offer a Community Supported Agriculture program, providing weekly parcels of fresh produce to customers in return for purchasing “shares.”
“There’s this idea that locally-grown food is too expensive. Well, we are doing what we can to make fresh food easy and affordable,” said Mary Lynch, a nutritionist working at Dorchester House.
While the farms are certainly looking for profits, market organizers have also made it clear that they select farms with a desire to help the local communities they service.
“Coming to the market is a great way to build community support,” said Cedar Grove Gardens vendor John Mazzone, at the Peabody Square Market. “But we are a part of Dorchester. We also want to make sure we support the community.”
The Dorchester House Market is open Tuesdays from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.; the Codman Square Market is open Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.; the Bowdoin-Geneva Market is open Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; the Peabody Square Market is open Fridays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.; the Mattapan Square Market is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and the Fields Corner Market is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.