Out of eight total, the oldest non-profit at the Waltham Field Station is none other than Mass Farmers Markets. At the time Mass Farmers Markets was originally established in the 1978, the station was still a functioning agricultural lab facility. Now, here at 240 Beaver Street, Mass Farmers Markets blends seamlessly into the station’s missions and visions. We can’t imagine them anywhere else! Their work to support farmer’s markets statewide plays a huge role in Massachusetts’ national reputation as a leading state in food justice. Over the course of nearly 50 years, this organization’s impact on the field of local sustainable agriculture is unmistakable.
Mass Farmer’s Markets was established under the state’s original local food plan in 1978 and functioned alongside the Department of Agriculture. At the time, the organization’s main job was to establish farmers markets. Many of the markets you might go to today, though they may have changed or grown, were originally organized through this initiative. As they began to succeed in their first purpose, Mass Farmers Markets adapted, setting their sights on a new one: bolstering markets through the creation of resources, advocacy, and representation. In 2019, Mass Farmers Markets offers a support network to more than 300 markets statewide.
Now, Mass Farmers Markets is shifting focus again. I was able to speak with Edith Murnane, the organization’s Executive Director, about her goals since joining the Mass Farmers Markets team last spring, having previously been involved with the organization as a board member. Edith has an astonishing amount of experience in the farmers market world, from operating as a vendor in Waltham to serving as the city of Worcester’s Director of the Office of Food Initiatives. Just like Mass Farmers Markets itself, her experience has led her to wholeheartedly believe in the value of farmers markets, which she described as “beds of wealth” which are excellent “tools for economic and community development.” Since joining Mass Farmers Markets, she has set goals to ensure the sustainability of the state’s market communities. More and more, Mass Farmers Markets’ work is concerned with “ensuring that farmers markets continue to be vibrant places.”
Establishing sustainability in the state’s farmers markets is a huge task. Responsibilities on the organization’s radar include awareness campaigns, fundraising mechanisms, and the creation of resources for better market publicity. Another form this endeavor has taken can be found in the organization’s accessibility programs. Mass Farmers Markets is in charge of coordinating with vendors to facilitate the Healthy Incentives Program, a state-run program that connects SNAP clients to local, fresh produce through a dollar-for-dollar match on what they purchase from farmers markets. This program fights food and nutrition insecurity, puts $1.12 per dollar spent back into local economies, boosts local farmer’s customer bases, and cuts down on state healthcare costs. As such, HIP has been described as “win-win-win.” As someone directly involved with the roll out and execution of HIP, Edith told me that the public interest in the program is “stunning.” Accessibility through programs like HIP, in the long term, will lead markets towards better sustainability, and enrich local communities.
In addition to supporting and coordinating state level accessibility programs, Edith also oversees programs exclusive to Mass Farmers Markets. The organization’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program offers coupons to local markets for families in the Women, Infants, & Children Nutrition Program, and to qualifying seniors. Taking a quick glance in the coupon office on the first floor of the Waltham Field Station, you can tell just how popular the program is. High stacks of binders, folders, and many other organizational supplies are tangible evidence of the Mass Farmers Markets mission, experience, and vision.
The organization originally landed at the Waltham Field Station as a partner of UMass, which has owned and been involved with the property since its construction. Furthermore, as overseer of 30 markets in the Greater Boston Area at the time of the move, the location was ideal. Now, Mass Farmers Markets only oversees three Boston markets at Copley, Davis, and Central Square directly, but remains at the station because of the unique “synergy” that has coalesced since other non-profit tenants moved in during the 1990s. According to Edith, the station has become a place for nonprofits to be “housed, hosted, and homed” with “room to be nourished.” As we share our space, we are also sharing our experiences and hopes for the future.
Edith’s eyes light up when I ask her about her favorite part of the job. “The environment,” she responds, “the people, the place, and the situation are all beautiful!” From running her own bakery vendor at the Waltham Farmer’s Market to advising 300 markets and countless vendors, she has been surrounded and supported by “extraordinary, talented colleagues” in, all farm puns intended, “the most generous field.” The environment and her colleagues are also the most surprising thing about working at Mass Farmers Markets. When I ask, she smiles: “the most surprising thing is just how much we get done with so few people!”
Mass Farmers Markets thrives on generosity. Since 1978, they have shared ideas and problem solving with market vendors, city officials, and the public at large to better connect farms and families. This long history is what makes Mass Farmers Markets so inspiring to all of the other organizations at the Waltham Field Station. The nonprofit simultaneously balances its impressive past experience with its ambitious future visions. Edith’s passion for the power of farmers markets to build community is equally infectious, and equally motivated by her own past experiences and trust in the future. With our “generous field” in full summer swing, we can’t wait to see what Mass Farmers Markets will share next.
If you are interested in supporting Mass Farmers Markets, make sure to support local by shopping at one of the organization’s 300 affiliated markets. Click here to access a farmer’s market map run by the MassGrown initiative. Additionally, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org about volunteer opportunities with the organization. Finally, contact your local and state legislators. Make sure Mass Farmers Markets can continue to share and grow at the Waltham Field Station.
By Anneke Craig, Boston Area Gleaners Intern