by Kelsey KIng
Photography by Kelsey King
Needless to say, one thing Boston lacks is rolling farmlands filled with your favorite summer produce to grab on the way back from class—but SoWa Open Market is a close substitute.
The market was founded in 2003 by Chris Masci, who said that the inspiration came from living in NYC and traveling abroad.
“One of my favorite weekend activities was going to local flea markets, street fairs and farmers markets,” said Masci. “The thrill of the hunt was always exciting to me, never knowing what treasure you might stumble upon, I spent hours parsing the markets.”
Masci moved to Boston in 2000 and left his familiar home of New York behind.
“I felt culturally displaced,” said Masci. “Boston is a beautiful and historic town, but it felt sterile and a bit uptight.”
He decided to fill his open-market void by opening SoWa.
Every Sunday from May through November, SoWa lines three blocks of Harrison Avenue and Thayer Street in the South End. The Arts Market is at the end of Thayer Street, while the Farmers Market and Food Truck Court find themselves at 500 and 540 Harrison Ave., respectively.
That’s right: SoWa is not just farm-to-table, but farm-and-table. It has not only your typical farmers’ market offerings, but a place to grab a ready-made bite to eat—this way you don’t devour your heirloom tomatoes and fresh goat cheese before they make it home.
To satisfy hungry visitors, SoWa blocks off an area of their market specifically for food trucks. Compliments Food Co. is one of the regulars at the Food Truck Court.
“We’ve been coming here for two to two and a half years,” said Bobby Maclean, Compliments Food Co. employee. “We try to source from local farms as much as possible and grass-fed beef is a huge priority for us.”
Other food trucks’ offerings range from Jamaican cuisine to Asian fusion, to smoothies, ice cream and grilled cheese and more. The vendors create a rectangle around a seating area with dozens of tables and chairs to get you off of your feet for a few minutes before tackling other areas of the market.
Silverbrook Farm had a steady stream of customers handing over cash for eggplant, melons, corn, blueberries, spinach, apples, flowers, jam and more. If you can name it, they can sell it.
“My favorite product is our Sun Gold tomatoes—I can munch two pints easy of those myself,” said employee Patrick McGonagle. “We have about 70 acres as well as greenhouses, so we can go all year round. When the weather gets cooler, we come to the Boston Public Market where we have the obvious things like potatoes, but thanks to the greenhouses, we’re able to provide tomatoes and other summer-based produce throughout the winter.”
If you’re looking for something other than fresh, local grown produce in the Farmers Market block, then fear not. Goods from other vendors range from fresh pasta to juices and smoothies. SoWa also offers selections of raw honey, smoked fish, local cheese, lactose-free ice cream and, yes, even chocolate.
“We buy our cacao from the Dominican, Haiti, Bolivia and Belize,” said Taza employee Ayala Ben-Chaim. “We have a direct trade agreement with the farmers themselves, in which we promise to pay 30 percent above the Fair Trade commodity price directly to the farmers, which goes back into their local communities.”
However, what makes Taza Chocolate unique isn’t just its ethics—it’s the company’s process.
“We use what is called ‘winnowing’—a process typically associated with removing the shell from a grain,” said Ben-Chaim. “But here, we’re removing the shell from the cacao bean. A press comes down on a layer of cacao beans and breaks the bean into pieces, separating the shell from the inner cacao seed; the lightweight shell is then separated from the heavier seed when a light wind is blown across the broken pieces towards a vacuum, where the shell bits are ultimately collected.”
This process allows Taza Chocolate to have a much higher concentration of cacao seed and less ground up cacao shell in its final products in comparison to other chocolate companies.
The open market runs every week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so before schoolwork knocks you off of your feet and the weather gets too chilly, grab your friends, a bite to eat and samples galore this Sunday at SoWa.