Mass Farmers Markets and the Dorchester Winter Farmers Market unveiled a new structure at the Epiphany School near the Shawmut T station last Thursday that will serve as a food access point in the neighborhood for food-insecure families to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables.
The structure, a wooden, winterized market stall, can be set up and torn down for storage by two people in under 60 minutes with a minimal set of tools.
The Epiphany stall is the first of its kind in Massachusetts, and Mass Farmers Markets plan to erect nine more at various winter farmers markets across the state over the next few weeks as part of its 2021 Winter Farmers Market Initiative, an effort to uphold safe access to affordable healthy foods for families struggling this winter.
The vision for the stall materialized six months ago as Edith Murnane, executive director of Mass Farmers Markets, set out to find a solution to keep farmers markets open during a winter that has seen heightened food insecurity rates across Massachusetts due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The vision behind the Winter Farmers Market Initiative is to ensure that Massachusetts residents can access all the benefits of farmers markets during this and future winters while managing exposure to this and future pandemics by creating habitable outdoor market environments,” explained Murnane.
Inspired by the famous Christmas markets in Europe, Murnane and a team of local professionals — designers, architects, engineers, green builders, and planners —set out to devise a solution that would create a hospitable outdoor vending environment at farmers markets.
The finished product.
The team, made up of the urbanist Sarah Howard; Steven Nutter, AICP of Place Practice in Somerville; Rick Williams and Phil Lemarche of Exhibit Technology in Leominster; and Arick Dyrdal, a military veteran and owner of Design Build Boston, created a set of modular market stalls that can be set up at the beginning of the winter season and easily disassembled in early spring for storage.
More importantly, all materials and fabrications are locally sourced and produced to invest back into the local economy.
Access to farm-fresh products during the winter and early spring months is especially important because it is at farmers markets that residents can access their Healthy Incentive Program benefits, which provide $40/ $60/$80 extra food money to SNAP households. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, Massachusetts residents need access to these extra food dollars now more than ever. And this winter season— as consumers are looking to shop in as safe and healthy manner as possible, meaning outdoors, in the open air—will be extremely important.
The Dorchester Winter Farmers Market “has been bringing fresh food to Dorchester through local farms since 2013,” said Cynthia Loesch-Johnson, organizer of the market and president of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council. “We are excited to partner with the Epiphany School and the Mayor’s Office of Food Access to ensure our most vulnerable Dorchester families have access to farm fresh food every week. We thank the Mass Farmers for its support of our efforts to improve the health of the Dorchester community and we look forward to utilizing this new outdoor stall, which will allow us to safely distribute food to the community.”
Reverend John Finley, head of Epiphany School, said the school is “honored to be hosting this creative new resource. Whether growing vegetables here on campus or helping families create their own gardens or working with partners like Mass Farmers Markets on food distribution, our teachers and our students are committed to bringing ever more healthy food into our community. COVID’s tough, but we will get through this together.”
The initial Pilot Phase of the project has received funding from the state in Gov. Baker’s FY2021 budget and is sponsored by state Rep. Liz Malia representing the 11th Suffolk District, and state Sen. Becca Rauch representing Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex Counties.
The funding was critical to provide the market stalls at no cost to the Dorchester Winter Farmers Markets and five other sites. While farmers markets in Massachusetts are deemed essential, they are often volunteer-run and lack funding for infrastructure purchases, especially when a systemic crisis arises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
This important investment in the state’s local food system infrastructure is seen as providing for greater food access, security, and resiliency in Massachusetts.
For more information about the Dorchester Winter Farmers Market or to make a donation to the 2021 Winter Farmers Market Initiative, visit massfarmersmarkets.org/2021winterinitiative.