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Mass. seeks approval for indoor farmers market

Members of the Public Market Commission spoke Wednesday afternoon with cheese makers, nut roasters and other small specialty food producers about the desired character of Gov. Deval Patrick’s planned year-round indoor market in downtown Boston.

“It makes sense to favor Massachusetts businesses but not necessarily confine the entire menu to what is grown here,” said Dan Estridge, an artisan meat producer. “Many of us here, even though we try to source locally, we can’t confine ourselves to raw materials that are local.”

Patrick created the Public Market Commission in August to gather information and write a proposal for the planned location for the market on Blackstone Street near Government Center and the Kennedy Greenway.

Emilio Fassito, who spoke in support of the Haymarket Pushcart Association, a wholesale produce market just steps from the proposed sight of the new market, said that selling non-local produce would compete with the 171-year-old Haymarket.

“If they start selling stuff that isn’t locally grown, that is shipped in through the Chelsea piers, then that becomes a form of competition with Haymarket,” Fassito said. “The nature and the character of the market is something you have to tell the operator.”

This meeting was the fifth in a series of information gathering meetings held by the Commission and was specifically aimed at gaining input from specialty food sellers.

Some vendors argued that because the planned market will be in the line of tourist foot traffic, people who do not generally buy raw produce, prepared food sellers should be preferred over others. Boston Public Market, a group that runs two seasonal markets in the Boston area, offered support for the profitability of produce in the proposed location.

“We sell more produce at the Government Center Market than we do at the market that we run near South Station,” said Mimi Hall, a representative from Boston Public Market.

A report submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture in May by the Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization based in New York, estimated that the facility would cost at least $8.5 million to finish. Patrick’s office has proposed this total be met by a combination of public and private funds.

The commission will hold one more meeting, aimed at gaining input from prospective customers rather than business owners, before it publishes its request for proposals and begins accepting companies’ bids.

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