Frost and the Boston Farmer

We are coming to the dark quarter of the year, when daylight fades, chill winds blow, and—Most terrible! Most foul!—most Boston-area farmers’ markets shut down for the year. Most local markets are closing next week, although some stay open through Thanksgiving. I can’t really blame them. If there hasn’t yet been frost in the Pioneer Valley where all these farmers actually work, there will be soon. And speaking as a recovering high school marching band saxophone player, I know how cold it can get standing outside on a sunny November day.

And that’s the curious fact of farmers’ markets here. Apart from a few exceptions such as Allandale Farm and The Food Project, most of the “local” farms at the markets are located far enough away that they not only have different weather; they may be in a different hardiness zone. That means that they have different minimum winter temperatures than we city folks get, down to a potential of -20°F in the heartier regions beyond Greenfield. Of course, that difference may not always exist, judging by the National Arbor Day Foundation’s frightening animation of hardiness zone changes since 1990.

More concretely, it wasn’t so long ago that Boston markets were supplied by folks who could see Boston from their homes. Prior to World War II, suburban towns like Lexington weren’t just known for expensive houses and snooty overprivileged high school students; they also had farms which supplied the wholesale produce markets at Faneuil Hall. War cut the supply of workers, and Route 128 gave people something else to do with their time besides farming. The farms grew more houses than potatoes, and we’ve ended up with a 150-mile “foodshed” instead of a farm stand down the street.

But wait; there is a glimmers of a return of local food. There are the wonderful community gardens run by the Boston Natural Areas Network, and restaurant gardens on roofs. Today,  I saw this video of the Old South Church “edible churchyard,” where church members grow food for the Women’s Lunch Place in six raised beds. Even now, with the tomatoes softly sagging, the place is verdant, full of greens and beans and healthy food right smack in the middle of the city. If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

Perhaps one day there will be enough gardens and farms in the city to hold farmer’s markets through to Boston’s first fall frost–which was December 5 last year. As the National Arbor Day Foundation observed, things are changing.

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