Tuesday, November 15, 2005


BRINGING THE COUNTRY BACK TO THE CITY: The Growth of Farmers' Markets in Boston
by Mariana Mogilevich
The Next American City

Where to shop for food has always been a question of taste. Supermarkets offer convenience and consistency; they also stock mealy tomatoes and processed cheese. Meanwhile, a gourmet revolution has transformed America’s epicurean culture, making sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar household items, and Indian, Japanese, and other cuisines part of the national diet. Local produce is the final frontier for urban foodies, who scour farmers’ markets for zucchini blossoms, and for whom connoisseurship of heirloom tomatoes may supplant the prestige of an encyclopedic knowledge of wines.

Such discernment smacks of food snobbery. Author Deborah Madison’s 2002 cookbook, Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, was greeted with accusations of elitism when it offered recipes for such “common” items as black kale, burdock, and pummelos. But she wasn’t telling a New York or L.A. story; Madison visited farmers’ markets in cities from Cleveland to Sacramento, Birmingham, Alabama, Trenton, and Anchorage. Once an integral part of urban life, farmers’ markets have resurfaced, benefiting city residents of all classes.

Before the endless parade of suburban commuters, farmers were the ones who clogged the roads into a city and around the markets where they sold their wares. The basic principle of exchange made city and country interdependent. Refrigeration and transport developments in the late-19th and early-20th century, however, reduced the need both to buy daily produce and to keep town and country in close proximity. By the mid-20th century, most municipal markets had moved to the city fringes before our modern supermarket distribution system rendered them obsolete. Orchards were cleared for residential cul-de-sacs as suburban sprawl enveloped the space between cities and farmland. The “country” has continued to move further away over the past half-century–often it’s now in another country....