Several of the farmers who’ll be selling their products at the new Egleston Farmers Market opening November 10 had a lively discussion about the connection between food, farming, and supporting the community at the Jamaica Plain Forum last week.
All of the panelists--including Egleston Farmers Market Coordinator Kate Peppard, who moderated the session--live in or have close ties to Jamaica Plain.
The panelists were:
- Jim Buckle of Buckle Farm in Dighton, Mass., who grows six acres of organic vegetables, which he sells through his CSA, to local restaurants, and at farmers markets (including the Thursday market at the Loring Greenough House).
- Angela Roell and Brian Kline, cofounders of Yard Birds. Yard Birds farms backyards in and around Boston, including locations in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and Milton. They contract with individual landowners, who get a weekly share of diverse crops. Besides vegetable production, Yard Birds also manages small backyard apiaries throughout Boston.
- Jess Liborio, Urban Grower for The Food Project in Dorchester, Mass. Liborio started working on farms in 1994, as a teenager in the Food Project’s youth programs. On staff since 2005, Jess currently manages production on two acres in Dorchester and Roxbury, distribution at farmers markets and to hunger relief organizations, and directs the urban agriculture side of the youth programs. [For more about The Food Project, click here.]
Exploring “Urban Agriculture”
While Boston can’t grow all of our own food within city limits, the panelists stated that urban agriculture has many benefits. “Having food located close to where people live can help make food more accessible for low-income people,” Brian said. Yard Birds tests the soil in every plot to make sure it’s safe to grow food.
Angela, an educator, said, “I got interested in urban gardening because I saw that the kids had a disconnect with their environment, nature and food.” She helps bee enthusiasts of all ages open hives, and also works with students of Boston University's Beekeepers Club and campers at the Boston Nature Center.
Jess joked that part of her job is to be an “urban ag extension agent,” because “people come by all the time looking for advice about how to grow things.” She pointed out that if transportation to the Boston area was disrupted [for example, during a superstorm like Sandy], Boston would only have two days’ worth of fresh food available. “So if everyone grows a little food, we’d have a little padding for our food supply,” she said.
Jim is currently a Jamaica Plain resident, but is moving to southeastern Mass. to live close to the farm that he purchased last year. “I’ll be doing my own deliveries, selling at the markets, and eating at JP restaurants,” which have been supportive of the farm, Jim says.
While he supports urban agriculture and gives advice on how to grow food, Jim doesn’t support having livestock in the city. Buckle, who keeps 50 chickens and has 150 more on order, with pigs coming soon, believes that there are lots of issues that make it difficult to manage poultry in an urban setting, such as manure management and dealing with the carcasses.
The Growing Number of Female Farmers
While only two of the four panelists were female, everyone agreed that more women are getting into farming and speculated why.
“It’s so much fun to grow food. It feels powerful to use your body,” Jess stated. “A woman who was just a few years older than me taught me to drive a tractor.” She added, “Globally, 70% of food producers are female and working on a small-scale.”
Angela agreed, and stated, “There’s a nurturing element in farming – you’re taking care of people.”
Jim concurred that there is a nurturing aspect to farming. “I’ve seen several women running farms in a more compassionate manner” than farms run by men,” he said. “Farms run by women are more productive and have more variety.”
Balancing Profitability and Affordability
Whether they are growing food in the country or in the city, farming is barely profitable for most farmers. Yet, purchasing fresh local food at farmers markets can cost more than buying processed foods at fast food restaurants or at supermarkets. So if local farmers aren’t raking in the dough, who is?
“ ‘Cheap food’ is cheap because of corn and soybean subsidies,” Jess said. “The prices doesn’t account for labor, public health costs, and the impact on climate change and the environment.”
Jim acknowledged, “It’s tough to shop at my farm because of what I charge,” yet his farm is not yet profitable. If he charged the true costs of production, his prices would be even higher. In addition to his mortgage, Buckle tries to pay his farm workers as much as he can, and to invest in the health of the soil. “The CSA is a big help,” he said, “along with the support of the restaurants in JP.”
Angela stated, “As a young person going into farming, the idea of getting a mortgage is a joke.” Since Yard Birds doesn’t own its own land, it practices heavy crop rotation so it can produce a greater range of products.
The Egleston Farmers Market has sought to keep vendor fee low to make it affordable for farmers to participate in the market. It is also trying to make it affordable to shop at the market by providing a free coffee corner and featuring seasonal foods. In addition, the market will accept EBT/SNAP (formerly known as food stamps); SNAP/EBT purchases of up to $10 will also be matched with Boston “Bounty Bucks,” a program to help make healthy local produce more affordable.
Why They Support the Egleston Farmers Market
All of the farmers are excited about participating in the Egleston Farmers Market.
“We live in Egleston,” Angela said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to gain exposure and establish a customer base here."
Jess stated that Danielle Andrews, another JP resident, who manages the Dudley Greenhouse for The Food Project, will sell greens at the market starting in February. The Greenhouse grows greens and tomatoes for restaurants and also houses 16 raised beds that community groups farm. “Sales from the greens will help us run the Greenhouse program,” she said.
Jim is looking forward to participating in his first winter market. “It’s exciting to see what we can grow all winter! We’ll be able to get to know more people, because it will be a slower, easier pace than the summer markets.” He added, “And if there’s snow on the ground outside, it’ll be nice to be inside.”
Whether it's raining, shining, snowing, or superstorming, the Egleston Farmers Market will take place inside Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Hall, 45 Brookside Ave., JP from 11am-2pm on 12 Saturdays, including November 10 and 17, December 8 and 15, and each Saturday in January and February. The Parish Hall is near the Brewery complex and the Stony Brook T stop; plenty of free parking is available. Shoppers will be able to purchase local produce, meat, eggs, cheese, fish, bread, and prepared foods, such as hummus and baked goods. For more info, visit www.eglestonfarmersmarket.org or call (617) 942-0194.