Cambridge, the home of two of America’s top universities, Harvard and MIT, is also the central location for six farmers markets. These farmers markets are open six days a week Monday through Sunday with the exception of Wednesday.
Each Farmers Market is a diversified food focused urban marketplace that serves the community of greater Cambridge and its 100,000 residents.
The six Farmers Markets represent a group of economic, socio-cultural and hunger sensitive organizations. These organizations sponsor 70 to 75 farmers that sell to directly to consumers, and employ 100 to 120 people. These markets are open 6 days a week with a five to seven month selling season, depending on the market, and can attract 3,000 to 5,000 customers a week. Many of the farmers have loyal customers that come back. The farmer’s customers-base has expanded to include restaurants and some local schools that have redesigned the menus to focus on healthier foods.
Farmers Market also supports hunger relief programs in Central Square. The Central Square Farmers Market, along with the vendors, work with the local hunger relief organization Food For Free, by donating their surplus weekly. Food For Free distributes this surplus of food throughout its Cambridge-based relief program.
The concept of direct consumer sales through the Farmers Markets was reinstated by the State Department of Food and Agriculture in the late 1970’s after being dormant during the United States post World War 11 expansion into the burbs. Commissioner Winthrop working in conjunction with the City of Cambridge opened the first Farmers Market in Central Square in 1978. The 2010 season marks Farmers Market’s third decade in Central Square.
Along with being one of the oldest in the state, the Central Square Farmers Market stands out for selling to a vibrant mix of ethnic groups. The Central Square Farmers Market employs 15 vendors and is managed directly by the local Federation of Farmers Markets; they also accept WIC and recently began accepting food stamps.
The Central Square Farmers Market, along with their vendors, also work with the local hunger relief organization Food For Free, by donating their surplus weekly. Food For Free distributes this surplus of food throughout its Cambridge-based relief program.
While the Central Square Farmers Market is on the oldest, the Farmers Market at Harvard University was the first in Cambridge to accept food stamps. The Harvard University Farmers Market, located opposite the Harvard University Science Center at Kirkland Street, is facilitated by the Food Literacy Project. The Food Literacy Project is a collaboration between the Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS), the School of Public Health, Health Services and the university. They also accept WIC.
I recently interviewed Jeff Cole Executive Director of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, and a Waltham-based non-profit organization that manages Farmers Markets and provides technical support to all the independent markets statewide.
Robert Sondak: How have the Massachusetts farmers markets grown in the decade following the millennium? How about in 2010?
Jeff Cole: Between 2004 and 2009 the number of farmers markets in the sate grew by 100 percent. This year the level of growth is smaller and is around seven percent. We still have added thirteen Farmers Markets for the 2010 selling season. Massachusetts now has 215 Farmers Markets, and that is an all time high.
RS: What Cambridge-based farmers markets now accept food stamps?
JC: The Harvard University Farmers Market was the first Cambridge farmers market to accept food stamps. The Central Square market is accepting food stamps as part of a pilot program. All of the Cambridge markets accept WIC.
RS: How does Farmers Market help the local Cambridge community?
JC: The Farmers Market stimulate job growth. They allow farmers to set up shop and sell there locally grown produce, fruit and bakery products. The Cambridge Farmers Markets feature around 100 vendors and employ about 100 to 120 people.
The farmers sell locally grown food and put money back into the economy. Most importantly they turn over the money rather quickly because their profit margin is small compared to other industries. The turning over of profit is indicative that the farmers are a stable business operation.
Cambridge Farmers Market Days of Operation:
Central Square (Monday), Kendall Square (Thursday), Cambridgeport at the Morse School parking-lot (Saturday), Kirkland Street at Harvard University (Tuesday) and Harvard Square at the Charles Hotel courtyard (Friday and Sunday).