Sonia DeMarta hatched the idea for the Lexington Farmers Market after reading an article in WorldWatch Magazine titled “Where Have All the Farmers Gone?” By launching the market, she hoped to make a more secure future for farmers in Massachusetts. The challenge was finding the right farmers and building a broad customer base.
Between seven and fifteen longtime Massachusetts farmers sell at the Lexington Farmers Market, as well as several recent immigrants and women farm operators who are new to the scene. Completely volunteer-run, the market is very diverse given its location in suburban Massachusetts. The expectation is that the wide range of vendors will appeal to an equally varied group of customers.
DeMarta was able to invite newcomers to sell at the market through the Tufts New Entry Sustainable Farming Program. Many universities around the country have similar new entry or extension programs, including Iowa State University, the University of Illinois and Cornell University. In general, these programs link immigrants to farmland and help them make contacts at farmers markets and other venues where they can sell their goods. The Tufts New Entry Program connected the Lexington Farmers Market with two immigrant farmers — one African and one Hmong. Both sell local produce as well as fruits and vegetables that are popular among their ethnic communities. Two other immigrants sell prepared food at the market: A Chinese vendor sells homemade tofu, and a Brazilian vendor makes a special coconut dessert.
The market also broadened its appeal through a food coupon program that helps a small number of low-income residents shop at the market. The market received an anonymous grant of $1000 for this purpose, using it to distribute $10 coupon books to houses of worship, a senior center, and the local Food Bank. The coupons have helped the market promote itself and form partnerships with these important institutions. The challenge now is to make the program sustainable in the long-term.