Urban agriculture fair springs up in Harvard Sq

By Maria Amodio, News Correspondent

A typically tourist-filled street in Harvard Square was closed off to traffic yesterday to make way for booths which lined the street, displaying locally grown pumpkins, homemade zucchini bread and even a couple of live chickens for the Cambridge’s first-ever Urban-Ag Fair.
Crowds of visitors walked up and down Mt. Auburn Street perusing the displays of 25 vendors, including a booth blasting live music from Girl Talk sound-alike DJ Mistaker. The ag fair, short for agricultural fair, was organized by the Harvard Square Business Association to celebrate and promote local farmers and growers during the harvest season.
The concept of an ag fair, which, unlike a farmer’s market is intended to promote agriculture and educate the public rather than sell produce, is not unusual. The festivities, which included an ugliest zucchini contest and a beer garden where the 21-plus crowd could sit on haystacks and sip pumpkin ale from Grendel’s Den, however, were far from conventional.
‘This will be an ag fair that will be unlike anything that you would see in White River Junction, Vermont or Lexington, Kentucky,’ said Harvard Square Business Association Executive Director Denise Jillson before the event. ‘As with everything in Harvard Square, it’s going to be a bit zany and unconventional. There won’t be any John Deere tractors there, but if someone wants to bring one, we’d be happy to have it.’
Jillson said the idea for the ag fair came from Cambridge City Counselor Henrietta Davis, who has been promoting the movement of growing and eating locally for years.
‘Even though we’re not a particularly agricultural city, this is a day that’s been set aside to celebrate agriculture,’ Jillson said.
The Harvard Square Business Association received applications from vendors interested in setting up a booth at the fair, all of whom turned out on the sunny Sunday afternoon. One vendor was City Sprouts, a non-profit organization that sets up gardening programs in Cambridge public schools to teach students about sustainable agriculture and nutrition.
‘It’s an amazing thing to think about cities and urban places as also being places where you can get fresh food,’ said Jan Hirschi, executive director of City Sprouts. ‘It’s important that we’re showing that you can have an ag fair in the city.’
There is also a historical aspect to the festival:’ Winthrop Park, located across from Peet’s Coffee in Harvard Square, was the original Cambridge marketplace when it was founded in 1632, said Jillson.
‘It was nearly 400 years ago that people on that very spot started to trade locally grown fruits and vegetables and such, so to bring it back is really pretty cool,’ Jillson said.
The event provided activities far beyond that of a typical farmer’s market, with booths like the Cambridge City Growers’ giving tips on growing your own vegetables, wheat-grinding demonstrations from the folks at City Sprouts and free samples of organically grown Taza Chocolate.
Cleo Hirsch, a sophomore at Tufts University who attended the ag fair, said that she frequents farmer’s markets around her hometown on the South Shore and had gone to one in Government Center the day before.
‘My roommate is also part of a farm share where you pay about $500 and you get fresh produce from a farm all season, so there are fresh beets in my apartment right now,’ she said.
Not everyone has to commit to a farm share to get fresh vegetables, though. Produce-seeking Bostonians can just hop on the T to the nearest farmer’s market at Haymarket, Dudley Square or Copley Place.
‘The farmers market is like an ag fair every week,’ said Hirschi, who encourages people to realize that getting fresh vegetables can be both easy and affordable. ‘It would be cool if people came to this festival and left with that thought.’

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