Food grown and produced in Vermont may soon be making an appearance at a new market opening in Boston. The initiative is part of a new "domestic export program" called for by an economic development bill signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin earlier this year.
And to hear Shumlin tell it, Vermont food is so sought after that when out-of-staters come here and shop, it's basically a scene of non-violent looting.
"These guys are coming up from Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, you know, they're coming up from New York, they're coming up from Boston," Shumlin said when he addressed the annual Farm To Plate Network gathering in Killington last week. "They're going up to our little farms, and they're loading up on Heady Topper, or they're loading up on whatever they can find, and they're trying to grab it from us, and stuff in in their trunks, and take it back to make their miserable lives happier, because they don't live in Vermont!"
No pun intended, the crowd was eating it up. And putting aside the fact that there aren't actually "little farms" that sell Heady Topper beer – The Alchemist confirmed this on Tuesday – the Governor has a point: Vermont food (and drink) are pretty hot right now. Over the past five years, growth in Vermont's local food systems has outpaced the state's overall economy by a ratio of three to one.
That's why the state is looking to facilitate the sale of those products the new Boston Public Market, which is set to open in the city's Haymarket neighborhood in June of 2015.
"We could see this as a potential Vermont 'embassy' in Massachusetts," says Chelsea Bardot Lewis, the business development administrator at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. "Not only a place where the product would be sold retail, but also a place for the producers to come down, sample their products, maybe have meetings with wholesalers who are based in the Boston area."
Reg Godin, the Agency of Ag's senior market development specialist, says the new market will be open year-round, and feature products from all over New England.
"So, they're looking to Vermont as a great agricultural producer to provide some of those products," Godin says.
Godin says the agency's interest in facilitating the sale of Vermont goods in Boston is just part of the work it's doing to further the domestic export program.
"Our fundamental goal is going to be increasing the amount of Vermont products that are purchased domestically, so regionally and nationally, with a focus on Boston and New York City," Godin says. "So we're looking to further Vermont impact at trade shows and other public market venues such as the Boston Public Market."
The Agency of Agriculture is making available grants of up to $2,000 for Vermont businesses to attend trade shows around the region and country, Godin says.
As for the Boston Public Market, more than 30 producers have contacted the Agency to express interest in selling their goods in Beantown. Black River Produce was one of them.
"We're always interested in everything. I mean, I think that's what it means to be a Vermont business," says Sean Buchanan, president of Black River Produce and Black River Meats.
"We represent over 150 Vermont producers and products. We represent a lot more New England products and regional products, and we're in constant communication with them: Let's look at all kinds of marketplaces that benefit your businesses, that keep jobs here, that keep jobs growing, that keep the economic cycle working in our communities," Buchanan says.
So even though the food will be sold out of state, keeping and growing jobs here in Vermont is what the domestic export program is all about, says Bardot Lewis.
"The food system is really leading the way in terms of economic growth, so we'd like to think that if we support the growth of food businesses then that will lead to more food security and more community health," she says.
Right now the agency is trying to figure out who will manage Vermont's presence at the Boston Public Market – because it won't be state employees. Reg Godin says that's the biggest hurdle so far:
"A Vermont company is desirable to work with in this enterprise, and I think finding someone to be able to staff an operation in Boston and sourcing Vermont products is going to be a challenge," he says. "But I think what we see as a state is we see a lot of young people leaving. And so those young people have to be going somewhere, so we think maybe those young people are going to Boston."
Other Vermont food businesses are already going to Boston, of course. Greg Georgaklis runs Farmers To You, which delivers food from 50 Vermont, New Hampshire and New York farms to Boston families every week. He says his customers have to plan ahead with their orders, so he likes the idea of a storefront for similar products.
And then there's the sheer size of the market: "There are [more people in Boston] than the whole state of Vermont," Georgaklis says. "So yes, I think there's plenty of demand."
Georgaklis has a personal history with the Boston marketplaces of yore.
"My grandfather was a wholesale produce merchant, peddler, way way back in the day at Faneuil Hall marketplace before that got turned into the tourist destination it is now," he says. "And he always said that the Faneuils, who it's named after, gave that to the City of Boston for the farmers. They actually gave it to the farmers. And so he always felt betrayed. He said, 'We've lost our vehicle, our avenue to sell the farmers' products.'"
The Boston Public Market is reviving that tradition, and if all goes according to plan, Vermont food may be a part of that.