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Markets Bloom in the City

By Rediet T. Abebe and Nitish Lakhanpal, Crimson Staff Writers

The weekly farmers’ market in front of the Science Center is a habit that K J Warren ’11 and Lindsey M. Kowal ’12 developed over the past semester.

“It’s a tradition to look forward to in the middle of the week,” Warren says.

Both the Farmers’ Market at Harvard and its sister market in Allston began as projects of the Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services’ Food Literacy Project, and are dedicated to selling locally grown or made products such as baked goods, cheese, or maple syrup, with the goal of making healthier and fresher products more accessible to the Harvard community while supporting local vendors.

While the Farmers’ Market at Harvard has largely been successful in satisfying such a mission, its younger sibling—the Allston Farmers’ Market—is still struggling.

GOING GREEN, GOING SMALL?

The Farmers’ Market at Harvard—opened in 2005—and the Allston Farmers’ Market—opened in 2008—both have operated under the mission of supporting local farms. While normally about 17 cents of every dollar spent goes to the farmer, all of the money spent at a farmer’s market goes directly to the farmer, according to HUHDS.

Food Literacy Project coordinator Dara B. Olmsted ’00, manager of the farmer’s markets in front of the Science Center and in Allston, says that the main contribution of the farmer’s market was its emphasis on going local.

“[The farmer’s market] brings people together—supporting local farms and local community is important to a lot of people,” she says.

And the concept of a farmer’s market is not only to make healthy food more accessible to a local community, but also to bolster local business in an environmentally friendly way, according to Walter C. Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“[Farmer’s markets] can support local agriculture with shorter supply chains, and lessen environmental impact as well,” he says.

Nearly all of the 24 vendors at the Harvard market are local. The Harvard market’s counterpart in Allston, located in a parking lot across the street from a Whole Foods, has only nine.

But according to Olmsted, the Allston market—which opened in 2008—still has the option of expanding, while the Harvard market is restricted by its space.

MORE THAN JUST FOOD

The Harvard market sells 16 different types of products, which according to a few of the vendors, makes it a relatively small market. The Allston market represents an even smaller range of products.

“This market does not have as broad a range in terms of variety as other markets I’ve been to,” Sue Ventura, a vendor at the Allston Market says. “Nobody sells eggs, cheese, or meat, for instance.”

“A lot of people come but few are shoppers,” she adds. “The number of people coming to the market has been decreasing every year. This is my least productive market,” she adds.

“[It’s] a bit out of the way...and not surrounded by very much,” Allston market customer Gerald Robbins says. “It caters to wealthy people.”

Olmsted says she has been trying to give both of the markets a boost in other ways, such as organizing cooking demos and scavenger hunts.

Attempts to make the market stand out are paying off to some extent at the Harvard market.

Carolina R. Portillo, a recycled glass jeweler at Harvard’s market, praises the market’s organization, saying, “They make it easy in terms of parking, and they set it up so that it’s very affordable [for us].”

Portillo adds that as a tiny local business, commercial advertisement is not a viable outreach option for her. The Farmers’ Market at Harvard, then, provides her with the ideal customers.

“People who are looking for things which are one of a kind,” she says.

FINDING THE MARKET COMMUNITY

Harvard market vendor Casey Cubito points out that the Harvard market gets a wide range of customers.

“You get to meet a lot of different people like students, faculty, and tourists, of course,” Cubito says.

Allston market vendor Pete Silvia says that even with such a small market, it is important to maintain the sense of community.

“It was important to come every week so that the few customers who come know he’ll be there for them,” Silvia says.

According to University Spokesperson Lauren Marshall, though small, the Allston market still serves a specific purpose.

“The market...brings more public programming and activity to the Barry’s Corner area,” Marshall writes in an e-mail. “With every market, there are differences based on location, foot traffic, customer base, number of vendors. The Allston Market...provides an opportunity for small local vendors just starting out to come to the market.”

But noting that the Allston Market is surrounded by Harvard-funded programs such as the Education Portal, batting cages, and an ice rink, Ventura argues that “we do have customers that come who live in the area, and they don’t have that high an opinion of Harvard.”

For Ventura, this community wide effort might merely be “save face and improve [Harvard’s] image in Allston.”

—Staff writer Rediet T. Abebe can be reached at rtesfaye@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Nitish Lakhanpal can be reached at nitishlakhanpal@college.harvard.edu.

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