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Sep 21, 2010 10:45 AM

Why do Boston area farmer's markets suck?

I saw a blurb this morning that Massachusetts wine will finally be allowed to be sold at farmer's markets in Massachusetts. Of course, they have to get a liquor license (impossible!) and card everyone who tastes (because of all the 18 year olds that have been known to frequent farmers markets to get drunk off of a 1 oz sample of wine. Oh joy.

This got me thinking, why do our farmer's markets suck so much?

Here are my gripes:

1) They don't have much variety. While not every market can be like the one in Union Square (NYC), I've been to farmer's markets all over, including places like Cleveland and Schenectady that blow anything in the Boston area out of the water. You can find multiple vendors with meats, cheeses, breads, pastas, herbs, ice cream, honey, jarred/pickled food, etc.
2) There aren’t many open on the weekends.
3) They are only seasonal. If there was more variety, they could stay open through the winter.

Maybe I’m just not going to the right ones. (Admittedly, I haven’t been to the South End Open Market, but doing anything in the south end that requires parking is a huge inconvenience to those who aren’t nearby) Maybe it’s because the area has so many farms in the community. But it would be great to see a large one open somewhere on the weekends with 30-40+ stalls.

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  1. Wow--that's pretty harsh, but I guess it's all what you're looking for in a farmer's market. I'm pretty happy with the markets I have access to here (Dewey Square, Union Square, Harvard Square), although I have seen much bigger markets in much smaller towns, including Bloomington, Indiana. Personally, I would get overwhelmed by 40 stalls. Heck, I even get overwhelmed at the Union Square (Somerville) market, which I believe has a lot of variety packed into a relatively small number of stalls: fruit-focused stands, veggie-focused stands (including a couple organic ones), fresh cheese (Fiore di Nonno), chocolate (Taza), meats (can't remember the name), bread (Iggy's), baked goods, and occasionally a guest stall with prepared foods.

    Perhaps I am not as disappointed as you because I am most interested in fruits and veggies when I go to a farmer's market, whereas your wish list had nothing to do with fruits or veggies. I tend to get unhappy when markets start to veer too far in the direction of prepared foods and treats rather than stuff that is close to the ground. I can get great cheese, breads, pasta, etc. in other markets around town, but I can't easily get locally-grown, seasonal produce that was picked that morning (i.e. fresh corn), nor in such variety as I can find at the markets

    So it's just a matter of what you want out of your market.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bella_sarda

      Winchester has a pretty good variety, too - not multiple vendors for each category, but Taza, Fiore di Nonno, Mamadou's breads, fish, lobsters, meat (they sell out FAST) and guest stalls with teas, herbal whatnot, etc. There's a candy lady there sometimes - very pricey stuff but really good brittles. They're open on Saturdays and you can usually find parking nearby.


    2. I have to agree, not a lot of farmers markets in the Boston area and definitely not on the wknds. I did read there is some indoor farmer's market being constructed somewhere near Downtown Crossing/chinatown (don't quote me).

      1 Reply
      1. re: surferbettygal

        It's actually supposed to be near haymarket I think, where there is currently a parking garage

      2. MA has literally dozens of small markets geographically distributed all over the place which I think is amazing.

        The breadth of some of the ones you refer to would be delightful, but to live essentially anywhere in MA and have SEVERAL markets a week within 10-15 minutes away almost anywhere in the state is pretty amazing and unparalleled:

        That said, the focus really is on seasonal fruit and veg, period, which works for me. The Hmong farmers which are at many stands have the most amazing Asian veggies I have ever seen anywhere, including Union Sq. NYC, which is paramount for me. I love veg.

        Go to either the Brookline or Newton Markets to see the very best, but again mostly fruit and veg with some cheese, wild mushrooms, fish, and meat thrown in for good measure. Again not 30 vendors, and mostly fruit and veg.

        With regard to alcohol, just be happy we don' have SC liquor laws or worse...

        1 Reply
        1. re: StriperGuy

          I wish the Hmong would come to the Copley Square market.

        2. I agree with bella_sarda, it depends what you are looking for in a Farmer's Market.

          Me, I go on Wednesday and Saturday, to Davis Square and Union Square (because these are ones I can walk to) and get my fruits, vegetables and herbs for the week. There are plenty of small markets that carry pasta, honey, jarred food, etc in my area (and beyond) so I don't feel a need to have a separate stall for them at the Farmers Market.

          1 Reply
          1. re: LeoLioness

            Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I wonder why JoeM goes to farmer's markets at all, when he could get everything he is looking for (wine, ice cream, honey, meat, cheese, pasta, etc), in one place, year round, at Whole Foods. If you take out the seasonal component and start focusing on prepared foods, then that's really what you're looking at, a substitute for a supermarket that has the ambience of a farmer's market but that really has not much to do with farmers selling their produce.

          2. When I lived in Ithaca, NY, I got used to the style of farmer's market that the OP is talking about: a big structure with many, many stalls, typically open weekends and maybe one weekday, with a mix of fruit/veg, prepared foods (including lunch food), and crafts. But even though no single market in the Boston area has the diversity by itself of a central market, the aggregate total of vendors across the famer's markets I frequent in the Boston area (Davis Square, Union Square, Harvard Square, Dewey Square, Kendall Square with varying degrees of regularity) is probably on par with what I was used to in Ithaca (and this is despite upstate New York being some of the best agricultural lands in the Northeast). It is true there isn't much in the way of prepared goods (although Taza chocolate, Narragansett Creamery, and Fiore di Nonna go to many markets, many farms sell honey and jams of various kinds, and most farmer's markets have at least one meat vendor, often more), but there are tons of places to get that kind of thing around here, so why use up limited space at the farmer's market for those kinds of goods?

            It sounds like what the OP wants is not a farmer's market, but a central public market (like the central markets in cities like Barcelona, Seattle, San Francisco, etc). It is true that Boston does not have this, although there is a group trying to bring a central public market back to Boston:

            6 Replies
            1. re: greenzebra

              I agree. The OP wants something like DC's Central Market or the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, and no, we don't have that, although I dearly wish we did and I have my fingers crossed that the greenway market gets off the ground.

              But public markets and farmers markets are NOT the same thing, which I'm not sure the OP quite understands. In particular, this criticism:

              "3) They are only seasonal. If there was more variety, they could stay open through the winter."

              Well...yes, they're seasonal. They are FARMERS markets. So by definition, they will be open during the growing season. In eastern Massachusetts, that means they open around Memorial Day and close around Halloween. If the OP wants to buy strawberries in January, he can do that at Russo's (or even Haymarket), but they won't have been grown anywhere around New England!

              Blackstone St, Boston, MA

              1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                I would love to see a market like the one I visited on Granville Island in Vancouver. Lots of cured and fresh meat, cheese, baked goods, fresh fish and veggies. But the part I liked best was the vendor samples and the food stands - my wife and I would head over there for "breakfast" every morning. In some sort of twisted way, Costco on a Saturday afternoon strikes me as the same kind of vibe - except the samples, snacks, and wares aren't as good quality.

                1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                  Thank you Jenny and greenzebra for making the distinction between public/central markets and farmer's markets. You sharpened the point I was trying to make.

                  1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                    Those are the two I immediately thought of as well.

                  2. re: greenzebra

                    Sniff, sniff, sob... the Boqueria market in Barcelona. Ohmygoodness would give several of my toes AND one pinky finger to have that in Boston.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      I feel your pain. That and the Borough Market of London and the Jean Talon Market in Montreal are fabulous markets. Maybe Farmers' markets are the first step to get to those kinds of markets.