LUCA KELLEY NIELSEN/SAGAMORE STAFF
There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to the economy, especially small businesses in the Boston area. Despite this, the Somerville Winter Farmers Market, which is open until April 10, allows businesses to welcome their customers to the same beloved foods in a different environment.
The goal of the market is to offer the best locally grown and regionally produced agricultural items including vegetable produce, cheese, eggs, meats and many other products to the public. The last time the market was open indoors was March 7, but by March 13, the vendors all took time off and reorganized their business model to accommodate the new COVID-19 guidelines.
Opening at 11 a.m. on Saturdays, the market is now organized into two separate models. The indoor market is exclusively for picking up online pre orders. The outdoor market, which is behind the building that includes the indoor market, allows customers to experience each of the 14 stands available.
The market has a wide variety of foods to choose from. Located in South Deerfield, Mass., Mycoterra Farm grows and sells a variety of gourmet mushrooms. They had over 50 different varieties on display at their Somerville stand.
The market had a great balance of offering specialty foods like Samira’s Homemade, which had many different Lebanese-inspired spreads and pita bread that were great for snacking. Samira’s had a colorful background which enhanced the customer’s perception of their delicious spreads, with my favorite being their Jalapeño Hummus ($4) for its creamy texture and spicy aftertaste. Each stand could stand out, even with their lower capacity and reach to consumers.
One of the largest vendors there was Boston Smoked Fish Co., which is also featured year-round in Boston Public Market. They offered some of my personal favorites like their Smoked Haddock ($9 or $17 depending on size) and Wild Sockeye Salmon ($12 or $22, depending on size).
To advertise their products even more, the majority of the stands give out samples for people to try out. Lori Shapiro of Suenos Chocolates, who is part of the Cacao Nueva Esperanza (a grower’s cooperative in Quito, Ecuador), started her business in March of this year and offered many samples of both milk and dark chocolate to her potential customers.
Shapiro said the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted smaller independent businesses much more than their national counterparts.
“I actually just started my company. Larger companies have all of their paperwork, they have vertical integration and they will export on their own plane-fulls of their products,” Shapiro said. “I am using commercial carriers. Right as I needed to export, government offices were closed and plane flights were reduced, so it was not safe for me to start.”
Although these challenges have presented many difficulties to smaller vendors in the market, many are thankful for the opportunity they are given. Molly Lindberg of Red House Chowders (the retail business behind The Red House Restaurant) expressed her gratitude for the formatting of the market and gave some suggestions to further enhance the customer experience.
“Before now, we have never done any form of retail other than serving people at our restaurant. I know the social distancing measures are important, but I think adding more stands so when people are walking around, they do not think we are just staring at them,” Lindberg said. “I like how everyone has some visibility and how no one is stuck in the corner.”
Another vendor that caught my attention was Stillman Quality Meats (SQM). With their organic farmstead and processing facilities located in Hardwick, Mass., and their butchery shop in Worcester, Mass., SQM has emphasized the importance of localizing their operations.
Alongside their business model, SQM had the largest menu at the market, offering a wide variety of pork, beef, chicken and deli meats to their customers. They have dedicated their business to helping their customers as well as their local community.
The last vendor I looked at was Brookford Farm of Canterbury, New Hampshire. Like SQM, their stand had a large variety of products including cheeses, meats and organic vegetables. Out of all the vendors, Brookford Farm had the clearest and most interactive setup, allowing customers to look at the products closely and explore their options. Their stand included organized sections of the items they offered and each one came with a detailed description of the product.
I had so many products to choose from, and after some consideration, I chose to take home one pound of SQM’s Applewood Bacon ($15), Brookford Farm’s Sharp Cheddar Cheese ($9) and one box of shiitake mushrooms ($11) from Mycoterra Farms!
With all of these amazing opportunities, local small businesses can have a consistent platform to connect with their community and share their experiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It is always important to give back, so please consider buying locally the next time you’re looking for something delicious.