Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blog Post No. 2010-14: Thinking about Adams Park...

as July passes the 1/3rd mark

Of Farmers Markets, EBTs, and Bounty Bucks.

Like an increasing number of neighborhoods in Boston, Roslindale has a weekend farmers market in the summer and fall dubbed, logically enough, the Roslindale Farmers Market. Today was hot and humid in Roslindale. But that didn't keep a good crowd from turning out, which is a story that has a couple of interesting angles.

When we first moved here in 2000, the market was located on the lower parking lot directly adjacent to the MBTA's Roslindale Village commuter rail station. For whatever reason, the market never seemed to be worth visiting at that location. Too few vendors, too little action going on. A couple of years ago, the market moved into Adams Park, the small park at the center of Roslindale Square. Though I do worry about the wear and tear on the park, especially in a relatively hot and dry summer as this one has been so far, that change in venue has really worked wonders. We now have multiple, high quality farm stands to choose from, a handful of local merchants putting out their own small-scale operations (I especially appreciate Fornax Bakery's stand), and entertainment. [This weekend's band was a surf-sound group called The Beachcombovers. Not bad at all. ] And the attendance at the market seems to be increasing year-on-year. Certainly some of the crowd is drawn by the quality of the produce, local sourcing, etc. It's also a location with much greater visibility and dignity than the MBTA parking lot.

I also firmly believe that the City of Boston's assistance starting in the last two years to the farm stands in being able to offer Electronic Benefit Transfers or EBTs, which permit debit card-like expenditure of federal supplemental nutrition assistance program dollars, has made a world of difference. Because, let's face it, the goods at farmers markets are often priced higher than similar goods in conventional grocery stores (particularly in a state like Massachusetts, where the remaining farming is relatively small-scale), they can sometimes feel like preserves of the conscientious but well-heeled. Not so since EBTs started being accommodated. And even less so with the City's newest program, called Boston Bounty Bucks, launched in partnership with the Food Project. For EBT customers, Bounty Bucks provides a 50% match on the first $20 expended participating farmers markets around town. When I attended the official opening of the Dewey Square Farmers Market near South Station a couple of weeks ago, I tried to get Paul McMorrow, of Banker & Tradesman, Boston Globe, and Harbor Garage article series fame, interested in the story. So far to no avail. But I still think it's potentially a great story, and could be a follow-up to the piece that appeared in yesterday's Globe about urban agriculture and the Food Project's greenhouse in the Dudley Triangle ("Boston ploughs stimulus money into urban farms"). I think a look at the numbers would show a jump in purchases by low and middle-income households at farmers markets where EBTs and Bounty Bucks are offered. In other words, the Roslindale Farmers Market now looks and feels like all of Roslindale is in on the action. And that's a very good thing.

UDPATE and RTUF ADVISORY: Two items I read in the paper (the Globe, of course) this morning seem worth mention. First, an opinion piece by Michael Harmon ("Main Street model revitalizes Roslindale") points out the great success that Roslindale Village Main Street has been since its inception in the mid-1980s. Everything in the piece is true about the small-scale changes that have made the Square a turnaround success, though much more could be said about the details. In any event, we do have a functioning neighborhood center to be proud of, and the 2200-person average attendance number quoted for the Farmers Market sounds on target. Second, this week's entry in the Brainiac column ("MFA 1, Gardner 0") speaks to a recent subtle improvement in the urban fabric I've had in mind to blog about: the reopening of the Museum of Fine Arts' Fenway entrance back in 2008. The reopening of that entrance, along with the increase in emphasis on the Huntington Avenue entrance, construction of a new visitors' center in the center of the museum's main building, and the de-emphasis and eventual closure of the entrance on Museum Road (located behind a surface parking lot), were among the first tangible fruits of the museum's broader expansion project under the direction of Foster + Partners. Apparently, Charles Birnbaum from the Cultural Landscape Foundation also agrees that reopening the Fenway entrance was a good idea, representing the reconnection of the institution to the historic park it faces. Not having been able to see the Renzo Piano design of the Gardner Museum's expansion plan in much detail, I can't say whether I agree that it loses something important in its connection to the Fens. If others have opinions, I'd love to hear in them in the comment section.

Please note that, in addition to the above update, this entry was also further edited after its initial publication. -- MJL

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