Campus & Community

Regional bounty graces Allston market

4 min read

With tempting produce and artisan bread come lessons in sustainable living

A surprise visitor put in an appearance at the corner of Harvard Street and Western Avenue last Friday (June 26): the sun.

Welcome solar rays scrubbed clouds out of the sky and shone down on the Harvard Allston Farmers’ Market.

Now in its second year, the market is open every Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., through October. Bring big bags, and your appetite.

On Friday, in a wide parking lot outside the Harvard Allston Education Portal, white-topped tents shaded the vendors. For sale were a medley of regional goods, including artisan chocolates, exotic breads, and fresh-picked bounty from local farms.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino stopped by to chat with Allston resident Theresa Magee, the market’s new manager, and Theresa McCulla ’04, administrator of the Food Literacy Project at Harvard University Dining Services.

Among the shoppers was Harvard President Drew Faust. She bought strawberries, a head of Romaine lettuce, and a cauliflower.

“My husband’s the cook,” she said, “and he’s going to go crazy with all this.”

Faust paused at the table for Big Sky Bakery, laden with scones, strudels, and – a specialty – dark rye Russian breads. Eyeing a tray of macaroons, she said, “One will do it.”

The clerk had no problem contradicting a president. “There’s going to be a fight,” he said. “You’ve got to get two.”

Faust gave in, then made her way across the pavement to a display showing how to make compost “tea” – a nutrient-rich liquid brewed from compost. In two vats, pumps sang merrily, roiling the darkening tea.

The display was one of several set up for a one-time sustainability fair. It diverted market shoppers with demonstrations on recycling, energy-efficient lighting, the environmental advantages of tap water, and composting.

Compost teas are a fixed part of landscaping at Harvard now, eliminating the need for artificial fertilizers and pesticides in many places.

Roots can get deeper into healthier, tea-augmented soils. Lawns in Harvard Yard have a heartiness that Faust herself has noticed.

“The landscaping looks beautiful,” she told former Loeb Fellow Eric T. Fleisher, who set up the guidelines for greening Harvard’s public space. “It’s working.”

Fleisher – a regular visitor to Harvard – is director of horticulture at Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, New York City’s only fully organic public landscape.

The art of compost tea, he said, involves coaxing beneficial organisms out of good quality compost and into a liquid form. Teas are brewed to be predominantly bacterial (for grasses, annuals, and vegetables) or fungal (for trees and shrubs).

In a separate display nearby, a shallow bin of compost – formerly banana peels, coffee grounds, and other organic waste – teemed with friendly microbes and wriggled with earthworms and millipedes.

Compost – the conversion of bulky waste into friable rich soil – is a one-stop environmental lesson, said Robert M. “Rob” Gogan Jr., associate manager for recycling and waste at Harvard. “It does everything good.”

At another table, Zachary Arnold ’10, who works for Harvard’s Office for Sustainability (OFS), watched over a blind taste test: Is it bottled water or tap water?

Most of us can’t tell the difference, he said, but the taste test starts a conversation on tap water – and how drinking it circumvents the waste (and wasted energy) of bottled water.

Environmental lessons come naturally at a farmers’ market, said OFS director Heather Henriksen. For one, she said, very fresh food means less transportation pollution was required to get it from farm to farm stand.

“Food is a gateway issue” to creating a sustainable lifestyle, said Henriksen. “Everyone eats.”

Across the way, at the stand from Dragonfly Farms in Pepperell, Mass., there were garlic scapes for sale. The stalky flowering vegetable is one of the first items ready to be picked at New England farms.

Nearby, Bee Vue and his family – Hmong from the uplands of Laos – offered early-season greens and herbs, like bok choy, cilantro, and lettuces, from 70-acre Flats Mentor Farm in Lancaster, Mass., an hour away. The big seller on Friday was pea tendrils, tender and lacy – best sautéed with garlic in olive oil.

Rob Fitzhenry, chef and proprietor of Baked Orchard in Chelsea, Mass., had his own big sellers Friday: scones, chocolate chip cookies, and flourless tea cakes.

He uses local fruit, artisan chocolate from Taza in Somerville, Mass., and homemade preserves.

Said Fitzhenry, “I try to utilize as many local products as I can.”