A year ago, 100 Hanover Street in Boston was an empty warehouse that housed vents that pumped air into the Big Dig tunnel below. Located steps away from the Haymarket T station and in the heart of Boston’s emerging market district, the building is now home to more than 35 local vendors who make up the new Boston Public Market.
The nation’s first permanent, year-round, self-sustaining market, the Boston Public Market aims to provide fresh, local foods to customers of all income levels. It features products ranging from farm-fresh produce, milk, and cheese to humanely raised meat and poultry to flowers, artisan breads, and specialty donuts – all grown and produced in New England. It even has a working beehive on site with the insects entering and exiting through a small shaft high above the sidewalk outside. Counting all the sources used by the vendors, the market includes products from more than 80 New England farms, representing a total of 7,000 acres of farmland in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
The market is an exciting success for the city of Boston 14 years in the making since it fills a niche of year-round access to sustainable and locally produced food. Funded by nearly $10 million in private donations and $6 million from the state of Massachusetts, it’s clear that the market is the result of a whole community coming together. But it's not all feel-good altruism. It also makes good business sense to the vendors who have set up shop here.
Andrew Pollock, owner of Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth, Mass., is thrilled about his burgeoning relationship with Boston Public Market even though Silverbrook already has a presence at other farmers markets. In preparation for the new year-round stall, Silverbrook has rented more land to increase its yields of squash, potatoes, and other root vegetables. The farm has also increased its greenhouse space for growing chard, kale, and hardy greens through the winter months. "Here [at Boston Public Market] it's cheaper per day than some outdoor spaces," says Mr. Pollock. In addition to rent, Boston Public Market takes a commission, based on sales. "If we make money, they make money," he says.
Although the famous open-air Haymarket will continue to operate right outside the doors of Boston Public Market, Pollock says it's a different crowd that will be shopping for produce inside, namely consumers who want to buy produce grown locally and from vendors who have fair business practices. "Our prices support livable wages for our workers," he says, adding the average wage of his workers begins at $12 an hour.
The Boston Public Market also accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps.
Pollock reflects a commitment and passion shared among the vendors. More than 250 farms and local businesses applied to take part in the Boston Public Market. The finalists underwent a rigorous selection process that reviewed practices, overall business plan, geographical diversity, and educational ties to the community.
“What we really wanted to know is what were vendors going to bring that would make them different,” explains Liz Morningstar, chief executive officer of the Boston Public Market Association, the nonprofit responsible for the establishment. “What makes this [market] unique is that people get to engage with the people behind the counter.... [T]he real reason you’re going to come back is because you like the people.”
One unique farm, Corner Stalk Farm located in East Boston, grows all of its produce in recycled shipping containers using hydroponics and clean technology. This method allows for a year-round growing season of hardy lettuces, as well as maximum productivity in a dense urban setting.
Another vendor, Chestnut Farms from Hardwick, Mass., hopes to give shoppers a different experience when they buy their meat. Owned by husband and wife Rich Jakshtis and Kim Denney, Chestnut Farms raises grass-fed beef, pastured poultry, and what they call “happy hogs.” The farm runs completely on solar energy, and all animals are raised completely cage free. “We are so excited to bring the farm to Boston and to share what it means to raise animals,” says Ms. Denney.
Chris Kurth, owner of Siena Farms in Sudbury, Mass., who had been serving as a consultant on the project, was so impressed by the Boston Public Market that he put in a last-minute application just a few weeks ago and secured a spot to display his farm's vibrant produce and signature sea of sunflowers. Siena Farms, which grows more than 200 varieties of vegetables and sources nearly 100 products from other farms across New England, already has a strong presence at multiple farmers markets in the Boston area, and even has its own store front in Boston's South End neighborhood. However, Mr. Kurth explained, “this market has a city-wide draw…. There’s a great energy here. Everyone is really excited to be here, and all the vendors want to support each other. There’s not really any competition. It’s all collaboration.”
Another distinctive feature of the market is its commitment to educating customers on nutrition, sustainability, and food preparation. As a part of this, the Boston Public Market has partnered with The Trustees of Reservations to form the Kitchen, where cooking classes and demonstrations will be offered for anywhere from $5 to $85. The Kitchen will also feature free lunchtime Q&A sessions with vendors, film screenings, and even fitness classes such as REI-hosted yoga and a running club. The space will also have two open slots in its calendar each week for community events, free of charge.
“We wanted this to be a place of gathering,” says Mimi Hall, a member of the Trustees and programming manager for the Kitchen, standing in the spacious demonstration kitchen that looks out onto the steps of Boston's City Plaza. “Just like at a party when everyone gravitates towards the kitchen, we want this to be a welcoming kitchen for all of Boston.”
The Boston Public Market opens today, July 30, so if you’re in the Boston area, make sure you check it out. Pick up some chipotle chili chocolate from Taza Chocolate, Mamadou's Artisan Bakery famous sourdough bread, or any of the other bounty that New England has to offer.
Staff writer Kendra Nordin contributed to this report.