On a sunny Saturday morning in downtown Waltham, excited customers are lined up at the edge of a parking lot filled with stands displaying colorful produce, crumbly pastries, and exotic plants. At 9:30 am sharp, a bell is rung. the Waltham Farmers’ Market is officially open for the day.
“They ring a bell at 9:30, and people will full-on sprint at you,” Madigan Murphy told the Justice at the market on Sept. 3. She works for Spring Brook Farm in Littleton.
The market, currently operating out of the former Embassy Theater’s parking lot, is in its 32nd consecutive year. It runs from June to October. The market requires that vendors grow, craft, or make the products they sell, “so everything is local,” said Missy Goldberg, a market organizer who is one of six volunteer coordinators who make the market happen. Many customers buy all their produce for the week at the market, Goldberg said. This means there are lots of return customers and “some serious shopping going on,” she explained.
Patricia Barrios runs the market stand for Cafe in Flores with her husband, Roberto Perdomo. Barrios also teaches Spanish at a private college preparatory school in Weston. She and Perdomo got up at 5:30 am to prepare for the day’s market. The couple is from Colombia and now live in Massachusetts. They run part of their coffee roasting business out of their home in Wayland. The rest of Flores de Cafe is located thousands of miles away, at Perdomo’s family’s coffee farm in Pitalito, in the Huila region of southwest Colombia. The region is one of the world’s premium coffee producers.
Flores de Cafe is one of several “micro-farms” in Pitalito, where, Barrios said, “coffee is a culture. Everyone shares what they know.” Barrios and Perdomo work closely with their family in Colombia — the coffee sold at the Saturday market arrived in the United States the previous day. “It’s expensive, but it’s good because it’s fresh,” Barrios said.
Barrios’s passion and pride for coffee culture are contagious and are essential to Flores de Cafe’s success at the Waltham market. “We tried to sell it in stores and it doesn’t work, because people need to know the story of the coffee.” She and Perdomo have been selling successfully at markets in the Boston area for two years. They collaborate with other family-owned coffee roasting businesses to share tips and tricks. “I feel so comfortable here [at the market]. I feel like I’m the ambassador of my product,” Barrios said.
The Concord-based Saltbox Farm has been at the Waltham Farmers’ Market since 2016. “I really like the market vibe,” said Jasmine Hunter, who works at the Saltbox Farms stand. “You’ve got your loyal customers that come to see you every week, and it’s really cute,” she said. “It’s really nice to build that relationship with your vendor and see what else is different [each week]” She also said that as a farmer, “it’s cool learning about [other vendors’] growing practices.” Hunter added, “Everyone gives each other deals and comes to talk to you.”
Despina Agapidou owns Fournos: Authentic Greek Pastries, which she runs out of her home. Agapidou grew up in Greece and emigrated in 2004. “Baking was something I always liked doing,” she said. Once her kids grew up, she “decided to turn [her] hobby into a business.” Agapidou also sells at the Newton and Watertown markets. “I do the thing that I love and also support myself,” she said.
Agapidou likes the Waltham Farmers’ Market because of the location and the people. “I like the fact that people want to buy fresh products … Everybody comes back and tells you how much they loved it.” Eric Campell, of Newton, bought two containers of Agapidou’s pastries. He does the bulk of his food shopping at grocery stores, but said he likes the unique options that the Waltham Farmers’ Market offers. “The pastries are expensive, but they’re a nice treat,” he said.
Agapidou has been selling her products at farmers’ markets for the past five years. Like many small-business owners, the pandemic hits her hard. “I had no business during COVID and the market was closed,” she said. The Waltham Farmers’ Market is an important source of income for vendors like Agapidou.
The Waltham Farmers’ Market is also a core food source for some customers. Martha Creedon, a volunteer organizer, said that the market raises $17,000 a year in donations. This allows them to offer a weekly matching benefit of up to $10 for customers enrolled in the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Customers who are signed up for SNAP can use their EBT card to purchase tokens they can use to buy food from vendors. For each token they buy, SNAP recipients also get a free token of equal value from the market. The market will match up to $10 worth of SNAP tokens.
Administering the SNAP Match program and doing the fundraising that makes it possible takes a lot of work, Creedon said, “but it’s worth it. A lot of people depend on us.” In addition to the SNAP Match program, Creedon said SNAP recipients are automatically eligible to get an additional $40 to $80 to spend on fruits and vegetables every month through the state’s Healthy Incentive Program. Two of the market’s farm stands participate in the program, with two more recently approved by the state to come on board in the future.
One of the current participating vendors is Spring Brook Farm. Ken Rutledge works at Spring Brook Farm’s stand at the market. He said he appreciates how accessible the Waltham Farmers’ Market is for SNAP recipients. “We feel we’d miss that demographic otherwise,” Rutledge said, explaining that his stand gets hundreds of dollars a day in the form of SNAP money and the SNAP Match tokens at the Waltham market.
Rutledge contrasted the Waltham Farmers’ Market to the market in Boston’s SoWa neighborhood, where “the bougie-ness is brutal.” His coworker Madigan Murphy agreed. She said markets in Boston tend to have less locally-sourced food and more expensive items like jewelry and vintage goods, and these vendors “upcharge you a million dollars.” Murphy said the Waltham market is the most “farmers market-y” market that Spring Brook sells at. The Waltham Farmers’ Market, Rutledge added, “give farms the opportunity to be accessible.”
Market customer Andrew Krassin, of Newton, looked over the produce at the Spring Brook Farm stand. The bins had all been stacked high with fruits and vegetables in the morning. By the afternoon, when Krassin arrived at the stand, many of the containers were nearly empty.
Krassin said he does most of his shopping at farmers’ markets in the area. He said the food is fresher and more natural than at the grocery stores. But for Krassin, it all comes down to supporting local farms and small businesses — “That’s huge to me.”