Dot Farmer's markets tell of summer success stories

The last farmers market of the year was held on Oct. 23 at the Codman Square Health Center. Photo courtesy of Family, Inc.

It's all smiles for neighborhood farmers' market managers, even as the economy is nose-diving. A handful of new markets were successful in their first season and those that have been around report a banner year.

Sales have been increasing in Fields Corner for the last two years, but this "year has been much higher," said Kachadore Berberian, who runs a stand at Orlando's Food Basket parking lot.

Berberian, who has been selling locally grown-produce in Dorchester for the last 36 years, said, "People are becoming more conscious about eating fresh food."

An increase in food coupons also helped sales, he said.

In July, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources announced an increase of $500,000 in the state-run Senior Citizen Nutrition Program. The coupons, redeemable at 155 participating farmers' markets statewide, benefited about 2,000 more low-income and homebound senior citizens this year.

Also, the farmers markets offer lower prices compared to the supermarkets, Berberian said. Even though the economy is bad, he said, "it has not been able to cut into business."

A 40 percent increase in sales has been recorded at The Food Project's Dudley Town Commons Farmers' market in Roxbury. Though a small market with a single vendor, it benefited from having EBT machines, said Fern Hickey, manager of the market. "It has brought in more customers," she said. Total sales at the location for this season amounted to $31,500.

Electronic Benefit Transfer machines are handheld wireless terminals that allow recipients of the federal Food Stamp Program to use their electronic cards at various grocery stores and markets.

Since August, food stamp and WIC program participants can double some of their benefits dollars when shopping at participating farmers' markets. Known as Boston's Bounty, the program was launched by Mayor Menino's Emergency Shelter Commission. The WIC program is the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

"The sales have been more than what we expected," said Philly Laptiste, manager of new-this-year Bowdoin-Geneva Farmers' Market. There have been a lot of customers with WIC vouchers, she said.

The farmers' market at Codman Square Health Center, which was organized for the first time, was able to sell more than $30,000 worth of fruits and vegetables.

This season has been a "very good year," said Maritta Manning-Cronin, market manager at Milton Farmers' market at Milton Village.

The tomato salmonella scare announced in June by the Food and Drug Administration affected the sales in the beginning of the season, Cronin said. People were wary and avoided all tomatoes.

The prices are not lower than the supermarkets at the Milton stand, but they are comparable, she said. There has been a steady increase in sales at the Milton Farmers' market, which started 13 years ago. "People are making a conscious effort to shop locally and the media has helped," she said. "The farmer is not your neighbor but you can shake the hand of the person who produces it."