January 14, 2016|By Hilary Ross| Food and Farms

At the intersection of Hanover and Congress Street, customers enter the new Boston Public Market and immediately encounter Red Apple Farm, where friendly staff serves up delicious hot cider, mini-donuts, apple crisps, and a variety of other homemade apple products. Al and Nancy Rose’s family has owned and operated Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Massachusetts for four generations. After years of successful business on the farm—selling apples, driving hayrides, and pressing cider—the family opened their first Boston location in July 2015 at the Boston Public Market.

Red Apple Farm is a thriving small business, with almost 95% of their profit coming from retail sales. But as all farms, it is inherently dependent on the weather for both its products and customers. If it’s raining, hayrides and apple picking suddenly drop off a customer’s plan for the day. So, Al and his family are thrilled about the opening of The Boston Public Market. The market gives Red Apple Farm and the thirty-seven other vendors a permanent, year-round, indoor venue that is equally attractive to customers. During a stretch of 10 business days last fall, 75,000 people walked through the Market! As Al said, “as a farmer, you manage risk.” The market allows him and others to diversify, plan long-term, and reach a new, growing customer base in the center of Boston.

Hilary-BPM-blog-1Part of the Red Apple Farm display at Boston Public Market. Courtesy photo.

The Boston Public Market is a 28,000-square foot market selling only locally sourced food. Other cities, like Seattle and New York, have established public markets, but Boston is the first to launch a fully local enterprise. And what does The Conservation Fund have to do with this project? After years of careful planning, the Boston Public Market Association, the nonprofit that runs the market, developed a strong vision and raised $12 million in private and public financing to build and operate the market—including exciting food-based community programming. Yet, the group still needed $3 million to make the dream become reality. That’s where The Conservation Fund stepped in, financing the final and crucial $3 million with a land conservation loan.

The Fund is deeply committed to conservation in New England, previously investing $20 million in loans to Massachusetts land trust farmland. So, the investment in the Boston Public Market is a natural next step in the Fund’s Massachusetts conservation plans. The Market ensures that farmers have direct access to customers, creating the conditions for farms to endure and thrive economically. Al Rose confirms this, saying that due to the market, his farm is “able to hire and retain more employees, allowing the farm to be sustainable and viable in the long-term.” In fact, Al and Nancy have hired 20 new staff at the market, including Nick, their Operations Manager, and Jon, their Production Manager, who previously had been working for the Roses in Phillipston.

Other farmers are reaping similar benefits. Kate Stillman is the owner of Stillman Quality Meats, which is the only farm in Massachusetts processing their own meats, like pork, lamb, and chicken. Kate comes from a farming family—her parents have owned their own farm, Stillman’s Farms, for 34 years. The Stillmans are long-time advocates for a Boston Public Market. In fact, Kate says she can’t remember a time in her 34 years of life when her family wasn’t working towards that goal. While Kate can’t be 100% sure of the Market’s effect yet, she thinks that “the impact is going to be off the charts.” The Stillman Quality Meats staff payroll has already doubled from about a dozen people last year to 26 people this fall, completely driven by Market demand. Kate explains that the Market “will create a sustainable path for the farm, as we now have a permanent place to land 5 days a week and folks have a reliable venue to come and purchase our product.” Of course, this kind of growth comes with kinks, but the Stillman family seems more than capable of working them out. 

Hilary-BPM-blog-2Kate Stillman behind the counter of Stillman Quality Meats at the Boston Public Market. Photo by Hilary Ross. 

On a recent Sunday, crowds were swarming to purchase meats from Stillman Quality Meats, vegetables from Stillman’s Farms, apple crisps from Red Apple Farm, flowers from Soluna Garden Farm, and honey from Boston Honey Company—all locally made. From a farmer’s perspective, Kate realizes that the Boston Public Market’s total focus on local foods is something totally new. She imagines that in 5 years, farmers will be developing new methods to produce a wider variety of local food, all driven by customer demand at the Boston Public Market. Or as she says in future New England, “the amount of local food will be off the charts!” To us at the Conservation Fund, that sounds like a pretty good investment.