January 11, 2016|By Liz Morningstar

With the support of The Conservation Fund, the nation’s first-of-its-kind, all local public market opened in Boston on July 30, 2015. The Boston Public Market is home to almost 40 year-round vendors selling anything from produce, meat and fish to cheese, milk, and honey. To date, we’ve welcomed over 800,000 visitors, and any given weekend brings 15,000-20,000 people into our ground floor location to buy local products.

To many, the idea of an all-local market isn’t terribly inventive, but in practice, it’s a bold idea. Everything sold at the Market must originate or be produced right here in New England. There will be no bananas, no citrus, and no gulf shrimp. Instead, customers are invited to shop the seasons and learn where their food comes from—often they’ll meet the farmer who grew it or learn the name of the boat and the fisherman who caught it. 

BPMblog 1The Boston Public Market. Photo courtesy of Chuck Choi.

We’re a unique non-profit venture, and our opening was the outcome of more than 20 years of hard work by advocates, private citizens, the City of Boston, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. However, even with overwhelming public and private support it was The Conservation Fund’s commitment, council, and flexible line of credit that made our opening possible.

The Conservation Fund’s support provided important cash flow during the most aggressive periods of our $13 million build-out, and today that same flexible line of credit provides critical “start up” funding that allows us to take chances on small businesses, new farmers, and creative concepts. It also gives us the flexibility to build the market mix thoughtfully, working all the while to continue to raise funds, and reach self-sufficiency but with the time to better understand our customer and our readiness for growth.

Our work is focused on creating a direct, focused opportunity for local farmers that can spur innovation, season extension investments, and create the economic opportunity and incentive to buy more farmland. Already, one farm, Lilac Hedge, was able to shift from leasing farmland to purchasing their first farm to support their growing cattle herd. Today’s Boston Public Market sells more than 280 farm goods from well over 7000 acres of New England farmland. Our 15 farm vendors source from ~80 additional farms located across New England. Our closest farm is located less than 1 mile away, where a small East Boston parking lot was turned into Cornerstalk Farm that now grows the equivalent of 1 acre of production in a single recycled freight container.  In just our first few months we’ve sold more than $5 million in local products, four of our vendors have expanded operations, and the market created and supports more than 160 local jobs.

But successful public markets do more than sell quality products. They are inventive, creative, diverse, and welcoming. They create a community, and the shoppers who shop there do so because they like what it says about them.  So everyday we try to include innovative, diverse vendors and impart a sense of community that doesn’t exist in other retail experiences. We:

  • Select vendors that reflect the diversity of our community: 38% of our owners are women, 19% are immigrant, and 16% are people of color
  • Accept SNAP (food stamps) for all eligible products and double the first $10 of SNAP with an additional $10 of market spending
  • Work with our vendors to donate food to the Greater Boston Food Bank. To date, we’ve donated over 20,000 pounds of fresh, local food—that’s the equivalent of almost 17,000 meals
  • Offer classes such as hands-on cooking demonstrations through our 3,200 square foot teaching kitchen

BPMblog 2A vendor inside the Boston Public Market. Photo courtesy of Chuck Choi.

The Conservation Fund and Boston Public Market are both committed to creating opportunity. For example, the opportunity for farmers and fisherman to sell their products; the opportunity for city dwellers to buy fresh, local food; or the opportunity to educate people about where their food comes from. Perhaps our most important opportunity is to convey the importance of our shared stake in conserving the land that produces what we eat and the environment that nurtures it so that it may grow.

As we welcome a new CEO and move into the Market’s next phase, we’re excited to find new ways to grow the Market and its impact while continuing to further our mission supporting local farmers, fishermen, and food producers. We are so grateful to help tell this story and so grateful for The Conservation Fund’s partnership in creating this unique opportunity.