Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Local Farmers Markets Offer Freshness, Variety

By Robert Sondak

My work with the Arlington Farmers Market began in the spring of 2007 when I sent a proposal to market manager Oakes Plimpton to provide nutrition services. I proposed to facilitate a community service-oriented food table that would circulate recipe flyers and a health newsletter and answer consumers’ food questions. I highlighted my background in dietetics at MGH and the Nutrition Education Outreach Project and my internship in nutrition at the Boston Food Bank. Oakes Plimpton read my proposal and in May of 2007 invited me to join the Arlington Farmers Market.

From June through October, I distributed recipes and conducted fresh fruit and tomato taste tests. These taste tests were conducted to educate people on the varieties of fruits and tomatoes available at the market. Three farmers were cooperative and contributed fruit and tomato samples for our demonstrations. Great Oaks Organic Farms gave us tomatoes. Kimball Fruit Farms provided peaches and heirloom tomatoes. Nicewizs Family Farms contributed a variety of fresh fruit. I noticed immediately that the fresh fruit and tomatoes looked fresh and were exceptionally sweet and colorful. In particular, the apples and peaches were far superior to anything that I had tasted at Star/Shaws supermarkets or even Whole Foods.

Great Oaks Organic Farms, founded by Steen Bentzen, is one of a select group of Massachusetts-based farms that is certified as organic. GOOF was certified as an organic grower by a joint program operated by the New England Organic Farm Organization (NOFA) and the Bay State Organic Certifiers. GOOF records are inspected yearly by the USDA to ensure that they are following federal regulations for organic farming.

GOOF does not use any insecticides other than a garlic-based spray. Bentzen elaborated that his insect problems are not severe because of the fertility of the soil. He went on to say that the soil has been built up from an initial 1.5 percent organic when he took over the farm to 10 percent organic today. GOOF grows a variety of salad and cooking greens like lettuce, kale and Brussels sprouts. In addition they grow tomatoes, including plum and beef-stake tomatoes. GOOF is located in Berlin off of Route 68, not far from Route 495.

Kimball Fruit Farms was founded by Allen and Forster Kimball in the early 1930s when they purchased a fire damaged dairy farm. They quickly planted apple and peach orchards. In the late 1930s, Allen's brother-in-law Harold Hill joined the farm staff. The farm struggled through the Great Depression and World War 2 with its changes in eating habits. Forster and Allen became the farm owners and Harold the harvester. In 1967 Allen died and Forster sold the farm to investors. Harold and his son Carl leased the farmland until 1999 when Carl purchased the property. The farm has continued and has expanded its core business today. They go to a total of 11 farmers markets, have an on-site farm stand, sell to the Chelsea Produce Market and have a successful restaurant distribution business. KFF is located in Pepperell.

Nicewicz Family Farms was founded by Julian and Catherine Nicewicz, who emigrated from Poland and settled in Clinton, Massachusetts. They purchased a farm in Bolton in 1929 and grew apples, peaches and pears. They also harvested blueberries and cranberries on a bog on the property. Their son Walter married Vera Veria from Hudson. They lived on the farm and raised four sons – David, Allen, Tom and Ken, and one daughter, Joann. The four brothers run the farm full-time, and Vera runs the farm stand. The farm business has expanded and they now sell at 11 farmers markets and have a ‘pick your own fruit’ program on the farm. In 1994 they received an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) wavier from the state protecting the farmland from future development.

Kimball Fruit Farm contains 4,000 apple trees that yield 12 to 16,000 bushels yearly. KFF grows over two-dozen different types of apples. The summer apples ripen in August and are not as sweet. This is particularly true of the Lodi, a green variety. The other summer apples include Puritan, Jersey Macs, Paula Red and the Red and Golden Delicious. The late fall or winter apples include Red Gala, Fuji, Cortland, Macintosh, Red and Golden Delicious and Empire. KFF is located in Pepperell near the New Hampshire border. KFF sells at 11 farmers markets like Arlington and Davis Square (Wednesday) and Central Square (Monday). Carl’s wife Marie sells at the Davis Square and Central Square farmers markets, and Carl’s sister Wendy sells at Arlington on Wednesday.

Nicewizs Family Farms grows 17 varieties of apples that yield over 10,000 bushels yearly. They grow summer apples like Paula Red, Vista Bell and Honey Crisp. They also grow fall and winter apples like Fuji, Red and Golden Delicious, Cortland and Macintosh. NFF is located out in Bolton off of Route 117. NFF sells at 10 farmers markets including Arlington and Davis Square (Wednesday) and Central Square (Monday). Allen sells at Arlington on Wednesday and his brothers sell at Davis and Central Square.

As December rolls around and cold temperatures set in, the peach and apples trees are pruned. They are cut back usually by 1/3 to stimulate new growth. Pruning in particular stimulates the main stem of the tree, the central leader. Pruning is used to channel the energy into better-formed apples. Pruning eliminates many small apples, which would contribute to mold and blight.

GOOF, KFF and NFF sell weekly during the farmers market season at three local farmers markets. They sell in Arlington, Davis Square, Somerville and Central Square. They sell at these farmers markets from June through November. The only exception is Arlington, which closes the last week of October.

The Arlington farmers market is located in the Russell Commons Parking lot and was founded in 1997. Pat Jones collected 300 signatures of contacts from her restaurant career and submitted them to the local board of selectmen. She contacted Oakes Plimpton from Waltham Fields Community Farm and a town resident to help manage the market. They applied for a zoning variance and opened on July 16, 1997. Over the past 11 years Arlington has grown to include 25 vendors incorporating farm grown produce, cheese, herbal teas, bread and pastry, Chinese vegetables, fresh herbs, flowers, meat and fish. Arlington is open from June through the last week of October.

The Central Square Farmers Market opened in 1978. This market is located in Central Square, Cambridge one block north of Massachusetts Avenue in the municipal parking lot adjacent to the Harvest Coop Markets. It is a moderate-sized farmers market with 12 vendors incorporating farm grown produce, cheese, herbal teas, bread and pastry, Chinese vegetables, fresh herbs, flowers, meat and fish. CSFM is managed by the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets. It is open from June through the last week of November on Wednesdays.

The Davis Square farmers market started up in 1979. It is located at Day and Herbert Streets one block east of Holland Street and the local Starbucks. It is a moderate-sized farmers market with 12 vendors selling farm grown produce, cheese, herbal teas, bread and pastry, Chinese vegetables, fresh herbs, flowers, meat and fish. DSFM is managed by the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets. It is open from June through the last week of November on Mondays.

I recommend that consumers stop by Arlington and purchase organic vegetables from GOOF. Steen sells very high quality kale and lettuce. I recommend the peaches that KFF sells. These yellow peaches are sweet and have an exceptionally firm texture. I also recommend the apples that NFF sells. These apples are sweet, tangy and firm. In the summer 2007 edition of Edible Boston, author Francis Moore Lappe recommended that we buy locally grown produce, even if it is not organic, over California organic foods to help reduce fossil fuel production. She elaborated that saving fuel will help fight pollution and global warming. Buying organic or low spray foods at the farmers market helps farmers financially and creates a consumer-oriented market place. Buying at the farmers market helps Massachusetts’s agriculture industry expand.

New England fruit growers have adapted Integral Pest Management to control pests while reducing pesticides, improving worker and food safety and protecting the environment. IPM calls for monitoring pests out in the fields during the growing season by an entomologist who will work to developing a pest control plan. KFF and NFF use IPM to grow apples and peaches in the multi-seasonal New England environment. If pest levels are low farmers, will not have to use pesticides.

The decision for some consumers is whether to buy organic or low spray foods. Francis Moore Lappe wrote, “I would buy IPM local over West coast organics because they place greater demand over pesticide reduction." I have bought West coast organic fruit over the past year at Whole Foods and the Harvest Coop Markets and have been very disappointed with the sweetness and texture of fruit. Whole Foods and Harvest Coop Markets in fact have organic fruit and locally grown fruits.

I have found the apples sold by NFF to be fresh, sweet and tangy to the taste buds. Most importantly, these apples are locally grown. The peaches sold by KFF are comparable to the organic peaches sold by Whole Foods in sweetness and taste. KFF and NFF are generous with the food left at the end of the day. They donate their excess food to the Boston Area Gleaners and to the Arlington Human Services Agency Menotomy Public Housing Project's market. At the Central and Davis Square farmers markets they donate excess food to the Cambridge-based hunger relief organization Food For Free.

Robert Sondak is a Spare Change vendor who likes to write about nutrition and food issues.

1 comment:

CambridgeKitKat said...

Thank you for the informative article. I had no idea the local farmers' markets were rooted in such history. I already love what I get at the FMs, but understanding the background will really help me to appreciate my purchases in a more significant way. Thanks for sharing!