Boston Redefines the Food System
Take a moment, close your eyes, and envision the ultimate food shopping experience. Put aside the nagging thoughts of “not enough time and money” and just daydream about the ultimate atmosphere, smells, sights, colors, and sounds……(Don’t just keep reading, really take a minute to do this before continuing)……
Hold onto that and now think about all the barriers that prevent you from shopping in this manor. Time, access, money, knowledge of what to easily do with fresh foods, etc…
What if I told you that I found my dream shopping experience? I bet you think I went out west and came across a market, don’t you? What if I told you it is right here in New England? In one of the most popular cities? Yup, Boston Public Market is finally open for business after 14 years of planning! Even knowing all the work that went into this, I was still imagining an everyday indoor market – not that this wouldn’t be great, but I didn’t imagine that Boston would be pushing the envelope to reimagine the possibilities our food system holds.
My son and I went on a college tour in Boston the week after the grand opening of the Boston Public Market. (Ugghh, I know – my baby is preparing for college already…) I knew we just had to stop by to see it in person while we were there, I have been anticipating its opening for so long. I am so glad I did – we had such a great time! Here is what we found:
1. Easy Access. They found a great spot to house this market – right above the Haymarket station that is reached by both the orange and green lines of the T. This provides access to hundreds, if not thousands of people every day as they pass through this station. We all know that if it isn’t made easily accessible, the likelihood of people shopping there is fairly low.
2. As we approached the market, we passed signs for the community kitchen that is a part of the market. After talking with Andrew Farnitano, one of the founders of the Boston Public Market, I discovered that this community kitchen is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield. What a great partnership, an insurance company investing in the health of the community to lower health care costs in the long term, it is a win win situation! There were no classes going on at the time of our visit, but I am looking forward to participating in a class, there is a fabulous selection, making this a very valuable community resource! Afterall, if we offer food that no one knows how to prepare, is the community really benefiting? Imagine what could come out of this resource…..I am envisioning lasting friendships and bonds created over the shared experiences of food, as well as the wake up call to our community about the importance of real food.
3. We entered the market…..WOW! All my senses went into overdrive. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday and the market was packed full of people, but not in a negative way. The energy surrounding the experience begged one to stay and linger, interact and enjoy. I did not see one unhappy face, I was actually struck by all the smiles I witnessed even on the faces of toddlers that often show signs of “meltdown” at that time of day. My son, being an artist, pointed out the beautiful artwork on many of the booths, work that individuals clearly took a good amount of time creating. A stark difference from the commercialized artwork you will find in supermarkets, whether it is mass produced signage or packaging on food products.
4. Diversity! Not only were there farm fresh fruits and vegetables, but also cheeses, baked goods, juices, meats, nuts, oils and vinegars, and more! All this added to not only the beautiful visual aspects of the market, but also the smells. It offers proof that we CAN offer local sustainable foods in one convenient location within the confines of a city. Not only is this model beneficial to the shoppers, but also the farmers and those within the local food industry.
5. Creative ideas were found throughout the market. One idea that I felt was particularly wonderful was the Cookbook Exchange. One wall of the market is devoted to cookbooks where you can bring one that you no longer use and take one that appeals to you. What a great model of sustainability through community sharing. We also found a children section to the market that has plastic and wooden food, child size shopping carts, and a play kitchen to provide role playing and play time centered around food. There is also tables and chairs with craft activities. Adults can sit back and relax in beautiful rocking chairs made from repurposed lobster cages while their children play.
6. Cost – ok, I will admit it, much of this market is priced so that low income families can likely not afford to shop here. While they do accept WIC and SNAP benefits, the reality is that those dollars are not going to go as far shopping here as they might in a commercial grocery store. That is the current reality. But what if those of us that can sacrifice a night at a restaurant to instead support buying local began doing so? I believe that shift would hold the power to alter our system and drive down the cost for those who currently have no other options. Coupled with the growing realization from insurance companies that local food can lower health care costs long term and we have a recipe for sustainable change. Insurance companies are investing in projects such as the Boston Public Market and fruit and vegetable prescription programs that will put fresh local foods into the mouths of those that otherwise couldn’t afford it.
7. As the Boston Public Market continues to grow, one area I would love to see them cross into is food waste and “grow your own” initiatives. Perhaps a food bank associated with excess food from the market that would otherwise be thrown away? Composting initiatives? Maybe a community education garden? These are all ideas that would close the loop in the food system, and perhaps these types of projects are already in the future plans of the Boston Public Market.
While I would absolutely encourage you to visit the Boston Public Market if you are in the Boston area, my hope goes beyond that. I think the more we see projects like this emerge, the more we realize that we can be creative in our approach to the food system. We can reinvent the way our community grows, sells, shops for, consumes, and disposes of food. We can incorporate “out of the box” ideas into redefining the system and the way in which it functions. This can be different in different areas, there is no one recipe for success and the assets and needs will be different everywhere. We need all the voices represented in order for it to be successful – What ideas do you have for improving our food system?