Farmers Dairy: Ten with Edible Boston
FARMERS DIARY: TEN WITH EDIBLE BOSTON
Holy Moly! Has it really been ten years and this the 40th ‘Diary’? Seems unreal.
In mid-April there was a sit-down lunch at the Tavern Club to take a look at how far Massachusetts agriculture has come since Fred Winthrop became Commissioner of Agriculture in 1993 and what the future might look like. At that time ‘agriculture’ was about farming, fairs and some regulation. ‘Food’ was not yet on the nomenclature menu, nor were ‘quality,’ ‘food safety’ or any thought of a small farm revival. Urban Ag was virtually an oxymoron, and alternative growing methods were limited to some dabbling in hydroponics. There were a few community gardens but they were largely utilized by urban and quite rural under-served. For sure, growing-your-own was not yet chic, at least when it came to feeding ourselves.
Look how far we’ve come since 1993: Now farming in MA is all about food, food quality, safety and justice/accessibility. We have completed the second Massachusetts Food Action Plan and are in the process of implementing its compendious recommendations. There is an unending plethora of food organizations each working to establish a slightly different agenda. Farmers have learned to cooperate; chefs taunt each other with ever more inventive tasty creations, often based on their relationships with local farmers who are happy to aid and abet. The consumer’s palate has grown in concert. Even 10 years ago there was no appetite for local grains, local milk, etc. Food business incubators were all but unheard of. Micro was not a term usually associated with the food business. Now we have micro-dairies, micro-breweries, micro-processors and micro-farms. All seem to have been able to find a niche as the consumer markets seem to be hungry for the next unique taste sensation or bragging rights to how local ‘local’ can get.
Edible Communities, and Edible Boston in particular, has been able to put its thumb on this throbbing pulse of adventurous, hungry and savvy connoisseurs and thus has been an invaluable asset not only to small producers of high quality comestibles but also to niche markets looking for the next cool, not-mass-market food items. Who is doing what, what is their back story and how can we help make them become successful given that they have a unique and high-quality product? Edible Boston, has, I believe, connected producers to markets and markets to end-users by personalizing the experience of bringing fresh produce and small-batch delights to the attention of everyone who is interested. Edible Boston has successfully put faces on produce and products in an understated and thought-provoking way that entices shoppers and intermediate vendors to try an unknown or un-tasted item. Agriculture is no longer about faceless bovines, lettuce isn’t Iceberg or Boston and mustard isn’t French’s or Gulden’s. The veritable onslaught of choice has made selection more difficult. But Edible Boston has given us a framework through which decisions could become easier if not more exciting.
JOHN LEE is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston’s last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children’s program on the farm. He writes for local news outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.