Good news local food lovers, the Union Square Farmers Market is kicking off its 10th year a few weeks early on May 17. The market, which has grown immensely in the last decade, will add several new vendors in addition to welcoming back many past favorites for the upcoming season.
It was those longtime vendors, some of which have been selling at the Union Square Farmers Market since the beginning, who led the initiative to open the market early this spring.
“It was actually inspired by a vendor,” MaryCat Chaikin, the market manager, said of the decision to start on May 17. “One of our farmers said they always have produce ready. We put out the word to our major anchor vendors and almost all of them are on board.”
Core produce vendors like Drumlin Farm, Hutchins Farm (certified organic), Parker Farm, Misty Brook Farm (certified organic) and Kimball Fruit Farm will all be on hand for opening day. They will be joined by all of the meat and speciality food vendors. In fact, the only vendors who won’t be there on May 17 are the ones who miss the first few weeks of the market every year because their crops aren’t ready.
As for what to expect that first week, Chaikin said that customers will likely find lettuces, spring greens, early spring fruits, rhubarb and asparagus. There’s even the potential for early strawberries, but the weather will largely determine what the farmers bring. No matter what, there will be a lot of fresh food.
“The market’s growing this year,” Chaikin said. “Several of our produce vendors have expanded into three spaces. And we’re expanding out onto the cobblestones more with our speciality foods.”
In addition to those old favorite vendors, the Union Square Farmers Market is adding a few new sellers to the mix this season. Somerville Winter Farmers Market attendees will recognize Hosta Hill, a small farm in Stockbridge that produces fermented food products like tempeh and kimchi. Soluna Garden Farm, which sold its dried herbs and spice mix at the winter market, will also be vending. This time, customers will get to experience the unusual and hard-to-find fresh herbs and flowers grown on the farm.
And for those with a sweet tooth, Tipping Cow, which makes “offbeat ice cream for offbeat people,” will be selling its unique flavors (think sweet corn and strawberry basil) by the pint and in ice cream sandwiches.
“The last time we expanded we got a positive reception,” Chaikin said, adding that 2013 was the market’s busiest year ever. That translates to 3,300 people shopping the Union Square Farmers Market on its most well-attended days.
In addition to all of the food vendors, the market has two new initiatives launching this year. One will provide kids with a passport that they can bring every week and when they have attended the market four times, they’ll get four tokens to spend. The market’s youngest customers will be encouraged to share what they did with the products the following week in an effort to help them connect with and feel ownership of the Union Square Farmers Market.
The other new initiative, Sugar SNAP, will ensure that the market can continue to provide matching funding for those using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to shop at the market.
“Last year we weren’t able to offer the matching benefit,” said Chaikin, who set about devising a way to bring the funding back. “Once a month we’ll be bringing in Hollis Hills maple products and all profits will go straight to our EBT match.”
Customers will also be able to add on to their purchase to sponsor a match ($10 equals one match). “It’s a really nice way to educate people about what the match is and what it does,” Chaikin said.
The market will open on Saturday, May 17 and run each Saturday through November 22 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. And with so many terrific vendors and initiatives, there’s no doubt that this season will draw in even bigger crowds from Somerville and beyond.
“Our market has really become a city and neighborhood institution,” Chaikin said. “People look forward to it. The market is a source of pride for people who live around there and businesses in the area. The customers have developed strong relationships from the people they buy from.”
Union Square Farmers Market
Union Square Plaza
May 17-November 22
Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Rain or shine