Third Annual Farm Share Fair Wins Customers for New England Farmers at Cambridge College

Third Annual Farm Share Fair Wins Customers for New England Farmers at Cambridge College

--Joan Squeri

The branches are still bare and the chill in the air most March nights is still positively unforgiving--but Thursday night, March 14--the annual Farm Share Fair had hundreds of folks thinking spring and warmly shaking hands with the people who will be producing their food this growing season.

The whole idea of an event like Farm Share Fair is to introduce consumers directly to farmers, as well as a concept called Community Supported Agriculture-- a term for a seasonal subscription purchase of goods directly from a farm or ranch. C.S.A.s, as this form of direct sale opportunity has come to be known, have become an increasingly popular way to source food for many urban consumers. Its good from the farmer’s side of the economic equation,too. This alternative buying method is breathing strong new life into New England Agriculture.

Founded in 2010 by Dave Madan, Executive Director of The MOVE, the Farm Share Fair sprang from a desire connect average citizens to the agricultural process and introduce the people who actually grow food to new consumers. Now in its third year, Farm Share Fair came from somewhat humbler surroundings, with little or no sponsorship. Madan tried his first FSF on a dark and frigid January night, at a tiny room in a public library. In spite of the cold temperatures and sparse surroundings, the event attracted a healthy crowd of about 175-250 people, all eager to meet farmers sitting at card tables! Madan knew then that he had tapped into an unmet need: a yearly ‘meet and greet’ opportunity for farmers and customers to come together as a way to source food was something consumers really wanted.

Moving the Third Annual Farm Share Fair to Cambridge College was definitely timely: a bigger, more visible quarters really kicked the event up a notch. Madan also hired Mindy Harris to expand marketing efforts this year which clearly made it more visible to more people; it also points to what Farm Share Fair could become for the future.

I arrived just after the peak of the evening and the joint was effectively jumping. The place was packed with about twenty farmers and ranchers and scores of customers eager to meet them. The excitement was evident especially around the farm tables. I spoke to several of the farmers, many of whom appeared to be happily weary from an afternoon and evening of intense customer contact. Down to a person, each one said the size of the crowd and the level of buying interest had pleasantly surprised them, and that they were glad that they had taken time away from their farm to come. For many that means a four hour round trip.

Having plenty of event sponsors helped the Farm Share Fair to scale up to attract more patrons. Familiar Cambridge names, Mahoney's Garden Shop, Cambridge Savings Bank, Cuisine en Locale, Harvest Co-op, Valencenti Organico and others paid to be at tables gracing an adjacent room, which boosts attendance and ties the supporting organizations to the customer's love fest with the farmers by association.

Having street-level windows along Mass Ave, lit up with people eating and having a good time didn’t hurt either. Event organizers told me that a good deal of the foot traffic included residents, curious shoppers and those just coming home from work.

Another brilliant stroke for visibility: Roxy’s Grilled Cheese food truck was out front, parked in the Cambridge College courtyard under the flagpoles, serving up what some say is the ‘best grilled cheese in Boston.’ Hmmnn, off-the-hook grilled cheese straight off the grill on a chilly spring evening at suppertime might just indeed draw in a few passerby.

The author is a Community Food Systems consultant, happily retired veteran manager of over 147 farmers markets, and a member of the Food Policy Leaders Roundtable of the North East Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG).