Monday, March 11, 2013

Haymarket and the Boston Public Market: Friends or Foes?

Last week I went on a fieldtrip with my food activism class to Haymarket, an open-air produce market in downtown Boston that has been around for hundreds of years. One of the things we learned about and discussed as we toured (does that make us tourists then?) the area was the plans for a new indoor public market that will be opening up nearby. Unlike in the case of Haymarket, at which inexpensive, sometimes slightly “imperfect,” fell-off-the-back-of-the-truck fruits and vegetables are sold, Boston Public Market is being organized by a nonprofit and will feature local (meaning mostly from Massachusetts, but also from areas throughout other parts of New England), sustainanably-produced “fruits and vegetables, seafood, locally-ranched meats and poultry, New England cheeses and other dairy products, eggs, baked goods, fresh flowers, honey and maple syrup, pastas and sauces, artisan chocolates, other locally-crafted sweets, and a wide variety of prepared specialty items from across the region” (  There are also plans to further develop the area by building a new museum, apartment complex, or hotel in this “Market District.”

Many people, especially the current Haymarket venders, are worried that the opening of the Boston Public Market and the establishment of new infrastructure elements in the area will threaten Haymarket. And aside from the logistical concerns about things like the potential incompatibility of a loud market located right next to sleeping hotel guests or apartment dwellers, and the concern that Boston Public Market will draw business away from Haymarket, there definitely seems to be a sense of class and culture conflict—some Haymarket venders and customers seem to feel that their interests and way of life are getting stomped on by a cool new yuppy trend towards eating local, sustainably-produced artisan foods. And the city is completely on-board with it.

I personally do not shop at Haymarket. I’ve walked by it a few times, but never stopped to shop because the the goings-on there sometimes look and sound rather intimidating, and I was suspicious of the super low prices ($1 boxes of strawberries sound sketchy, right? And this is coming from me, an uber cheapskate.) Plus it isn’t located anywhere near to where I live, so it probably wouldn’t make sense for me to do regular shopping there. And yet I kind of feel as sense of solidarity with the Haymarket venders and customers who are worried about getting put out of business by the Boston Public Market and the new hotel, apartment building, or museum—and this is in spite of the fact that, as a consumer, I think that the Boston Public Market sounds awesome! I think that my sense of solidarity has to do with the fact that I tend to want to identify with the “underdogs” and because my lower-middle class self-identification makes me suspicious of causes that might give preference to the sale of artisan cheeses over the livlihoods of independent produce vendors that have been doing their thing in the area for a really long time. And I kind of feel like the concept of a “Market District,” although it sounds really exciting, might be kind of just appropriating (and making over) the Haymarket “brand” and cultural-historical capital at the cost of the real Haymarket’s viability. And that seems kind of unfair. 

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