There is no shortage of newness in the Old Town these days, and last Thursday, July 30, city and state officials rang in the newest trend to hit Boston – the Boston Public Market, the nation’s first year-round, locally sourced market.
Whether one desires to buy 14 varieties of lettuce grown in shipping containers under the shadow of Logan Airport, local honey made from a native bush, native flower bouquets, chocolate made in Somerville, or even a piece of fish with the date and time caught, location caught and person who caught it – the Boston Public Market debuted to great fanfare as a place to offer such great consumer choices.
The market is 20 years in the making – with the recent effort being a 10-year push – and is located in the ground floor of what is a structure primarily purposed for housing vent shafts for the Tip O’Neill Tunnel and a parking garage for short-term visitors.
The first floor was vacant for years, and was likely to go unused had it not been for the perseverance of so many investors and farmers and the support of the neighboring Haymarket Pushcart Association.
“This market is about connecting people – farmers, fishermen and local food producers – with the people who buy and consumer their food,” said Liz Morningstar, CEO of the Boston Public Market. “We are building a community…and an opportunity to learn about local food and where it comes from.”
The market is quite different from the traditional Haymarket, where vegetables and produce have been sold since Colonial times on the street. The Boston Public Market is viewed by itself and Haymarket a compliment that offers different products.
The biggest difference is that all of the vendors must sell products produced or sourced from New England. Most, however, are from Massachusetts – with 34 of the 37 vendors on opening day coming from the Commonwealth. Whether they are traditional farms, specialized meat markets, beer brewers, liquor distillers, cheese mongers or …, all of the products come from the area.
In fact, the local area with the most vendors was Somerville, with four vendors.
“I think its consumers .. local and they value that closer relationship with the person that produced it,” said Andrew Farnitano, a spokesperson for the Market. “Whether its buying produce from the farm that grew it or meeting the rancher who produced the meat you buy or being able to walk down the street to visit with the brewer who made the beer you’re drinking, consumers want a relationship. In our research for the market, we found that consumers now value local more than they value organic.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said Massachusetts is in the top 10 for brining local product directly to the consumer, and had no doubts that would increase with the emergence of the Boston Public Market.
“We are not a large state in terms of being a producer, but we fight way over our weight class in terms of direct farm to consumer products,” he said. “We’re a top 10 player in direct farm to consumer products in the country. With this, maybe we can become a top five player.”
Mayor Martin Walsh said the Market gives Boston another first that he predicted would be replicated around the country.
“This is going to set a trend, not just in Massachusetts, but across the country and it is happening right here at Haymarket,” he said.
He also gave credit to the late Mayor Tom Menino, who pushed the Market during his tenure and established the idea for a market district in the Blackstone Block.
“He wouldn’t let up on this idea, and here it is today,” he said.
As one enters the main entrance from Congress Street, immediately the smell of cider donuts and apples blasts the senses.
That blast of Massachusetts goodness comes from Red Apple Farms of Phillipston – one of the leaders of the Boston Public Market movement and a chosen vendor with a choice spot.
The farm has been in existence since the 1700s and owners Al and Nancy Rose said they were excited to be part of the moment.
“We are super excited,” said Al. “It’s exciting to be part of a major historic milestone for the City of Boston and New England,” he said.
Employees and workers at the Red Apple stand in the Boston Public Market have been training for months to be ready, and Rose said the Market takes away the uncertainties of having a venue for his products.
“I’m excited we’re bringing our farm to the heart of the City,” he said. “We’re not going to be constrained by the seasonal demand and seasonal concerns of our business. Famers worry. I lost my hair a long time because of that.”
Then there is the Corner Stalk Farms, headed up by Shawn and Connie Cooney, who grow 14 varieties of lettuce and greens – the kind one cannot find in the stores – hydroponically in shipping containers at an East Boston location. They had their first harvest from their technologically-savvy operation in January 2014 and have sold mostly wholesale to restaurants. With the Boston Public Market, the former school teacher said she and her husband have a chance to go the retail route.
“We’re thrilled to be picked as a vendor and this is our first time to sell retail,” she said.
Their product, she said, has grown popular with local chefs – who desire the unique greens for their dishes and also enjoy the longer shelf life.
“We have had many chefs visit our operation and their number one comment is how long it lasts,” she said. “Our lettuce will last – chefs say it lasts them a long time and they have very little waste. We get three weeks out of it, but it we market it as a two-week shelf life. It’s a little more up front, but in the long run it evens out because there is so much less waste. We’re excited to be able to offer it directly to consumers now.”
There is also a beer and spirits area, where all local producers are featured – including breweries like Mystic Brewery in Chelsea and distillers making whiskey in Boston. A special tasting room has been built there for brewers to come in and highlight their products.
Market Manager Tiffany Emig said she and her staff worked very hard to make sure the mix worked.
“Based on the applications we got, we could have filled the place up with cheese producers,” she said. “We worked to get a really good mix and use the Project for Public Spaces, a New York based company. They helped us to figure out the right mix – farmers vs. dairy vs. meat. We looked at our applications based on that and kept a few spaces open because we want to hear what our customers will tell us about what they need.”
The Market is a public-private partnership made possible by the support of the state and the commitment of $9 million in private philanthropy. It is a non-profit and benefactors included the Henry Kendall Foundation, the John W. Henry Family Foundation, Holly and David Bruce, the Manton Foundation, Trustees of Reservations and an undisclosed benefactor.
The Conservation Fund provided $3 million in financing.
Blue Cross Blue Shield is the Market’s health and wellness partner and will provide funding and content for those programs.
The Boston Public Market is open year-round from Wednesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For additional information, visit their website at bostonpublicmarket.org.