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Carrying plastic bags stuffed with produce, a shopper at the Harvard Allston Farmers’ Market reflected on the state of the University-created outdoor market: “They’re starting to lose people out there, aren’t they?”
Local farmers and community members have echoed this shopper’s off-hand remark.
They say that unlike the bustling Harvard Farmers’ Market outside the Science Center, the Allston market—envisioned as part of the University’s outreach into the Allston community—has had trouble attracting customers and vendors.
Last week the number of stands selling fresh vegetables, fruits, baked goods, and pasta, at the Allston Market decreased from the usual seven or eight to two.
Meanwhile, the market on Harvard’s campus continues to attract over 10 vendors weekly and has 17 vendors listed on the Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services website.
After Allston residents asked Harvard to bring a farmers’ market to their community, HUHDS’ Food Literacy Project actualized the project in 2008.
“I think it’s a nice thing to have, you get fresh fruits, vegetables, and it’s a nice use of the parking lot,” said Paul Berkeley, president of the Allston Civic Association.
But local farmers said that the lack of foot traffic has deterred them from returning to Allston’s market.
“At the moment Allston has been a slow one that only needed one of our staff members,” said Jim A. Ward, co-owner of Ward’s Berry Farms. “I’ve heard from my staff that they don’t think that’s a fantastic location for the Allston market, as opposed to the Harvard market.”
Lanni Orchards, a farm that sells products on Tuesdays outside the Science Center, sold in Allston until this year.
“We just didn’t do that great last year at Allston,” said Lisa Lanni, the office manager.
And many vendors said that when they are short on staff they have made cuts to their operations at the Allston Farmers’ Market.
During the summer many of the farms staff students to run the markets, but with the start of the academic year they are left short-handed.
“It’s one of the those seasonal business struggles,” Ward said.
He said the farm plans to return to the Allston market after new staff members are hired and trained.
In order to attract shoppers, the University said it hosts a variety of events—including performances from musicians and a book festival—in addition to handing out fliers and sending emails to attract shoppers.
“We will continue to support the farmers’ market in Allston in a variety of ways and encourage local residents and Harvard affiliates to help us generate a successful market environment,” said University spokesperson Lauren Marshall.
But some residents feel that Harvard’s efforts have not been successful.
“When it’s just you and five other shoppers, it doesn’t really matter what kind of creative programming they have,” said resident Harry E. Mattison. “As far as farmers’ markets go, I would rank it toward the bottom.”
Some shoppers said that even though the market is smaller than many others, they still appreciated having a farmers’ market in Allston.
“It’s near my work so it’s convenient,” said Gina Halstead, who works for Harvard Business School. “My co-workers and I all come here to take a break, shop, and go back to work.”
—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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