To Start a Farmers Market, It Takes a Village

Egleston Farmers Market Sign

Signs outside Egleston Farmers Market in Jamaica Plain, Mas. Photo by Suzanne Hinton.

Last fall, I fulfilled one of my dreams by helping to start the Egleston Farmers Market, an indoor winter farmers market in Jamaica Plain, my neighborhood of Boston (better known by its nickname, JP). In the process, I discovered that it takes a village to get a farmers market going.

While JP has three farmers markets in the summer, they are small and lack vitality.  A great farmers market is more than a place to load up on fresh veggies: it’s also a place where you want to linger, grab lunch, hear free music, catch up on the neighborhood gossip, and meet some new people.  A place, for example, like Baltimore’s 32nd Street Market.

View of the market

Opening day view of the market. Photo by Michelle Johnson

Long-time readers of The PescoVegetarian Times may recall that I wrote a post about how winter farmers markets were becoming hot two years ago.  I’d just attended a session about winter farmers markets at the Harvest New England Agriculture Conference and Trade Show and was dreaming about starting a winter market in JP. I quickly realized I didn’t have the time or gumption to get a market going on my own, so I put aside my fantasy.

Last spring, through the JP New Economy Transition, a local group that promotes community, sustainability, and supporting the local economy, I met three other JP residents who were just as eager to have a market as I was, and we started planning. Our market manager, Kate Peppard, in particular, has been our Energizer Bunny, working tirelessly to design our logo, secure the vendors, process all the paperwork, design our logo, and run the market each week, all while working a demanding full-time job!

John Crow farmMy other colleagues, Orion Kriegman and Betsy Cowan, are both deeply engaged in the community in their professional and personal lives, and helped fundraise and find supporters for the market. And I provided pro bono marketing and PR services from my company, Good Egg Marketing. by creating the Egleston Farmers Market website and generating some buzz.

Finding the right space was the hardest part.  We wanted to hold the market in Egleston Square, a pocket of Jamaica Plain that also straddles neighboring Roxbury. Egleston Square is a diverse, low-income neighborhood with business owners from 16 countries in 4 different continents. Betsy, who is the Executive Director of Egleston Square Main Street, wrote a great post about how the market is hoping to make healthy local food accessible in JP and Roxbury.

Photo of Mei Mei Street Kitchen food truck

Mei Mei Street Street Kitchen makes a Double Awesome Egg Pancake Sandwich that’s out of this world! Photo by Michelle Johnson.

While we weren’t able to find a suitable location in the heart of Egleston Square, we eventually made an agreement with Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Hall.  Not only is Our Lady of Lourdes in the Egleston area, but it already runs a food pantry, so it is committed to trying to help feed people.  In addition, the Parish Hall has its own parking lot, is close to public transportation, and is around the corner from a bustling restaurant/nonprofit/ business complex in a former brewery run by the JP Neighborhood Development Corporation. In short, it’s the perfect location.

The Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets, the City of Boston, and the Boston Collaborative for Food & Fitness were all helpful in helping us understand and overcome the challenges of getting insurance for us and the vendors, getting the Parish Hall past inspection, and making sure we were in compliance with all the health department regulations.  They also helped us get a mobile device, so we could take EBT payments (formerly food stamps) and provide $10 in free “Bounty Bucks” for people who spend at least $20 in EBT at the market.

Heather and Johnny perform

Heather and Johnny perform at the market. Photo by Mike Steinhoff

But it was our “village”–the generous people who donated money, posted flyers around the neighborhood, staffed the children’s craft corner, and played music for hours–that made the market a vital community gathering place.  Including, of course, all the local residents who’ve voted with their dollars and their feet to support the market. And our wonderful  vendors have helped us promote the market through their websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds.

We opened on November 10, 2012 with over 1,000 people, and have consistently attracted 500+ people every week since.  The response has been so great that we’ve started surveying our vendors and community to see if they’d be interested in having us open in the same location from June through September this year.

Ultimately, Egleston Farmers Market’s continued success depends on having a steady flow of satisfied shoppers every week. What I’ve learned is that it takes a village, not just to start a farmers market, but to keep it going.

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5 Responses to To Start a Farmers Market, It Takes a Village

  1. Tammy says:

    Woot! Great story and so inspiring! I think about things like this and think that I have no time but you showed that it can be done.

  2. Thanks, Tammy! When so many people pitch in, it makes it all possible.

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