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Massachusetts ranks eighth for freshest food in nation, tastes better, consumers say

Friday’s Ziploc survey ranked Boston as the 8th freshest city in the country, due to the Hub’s high quality farmer’s markets and gardening habits. ABIGAIL LIN/DFP STAFF

Star Market customer Hanna Reeves wound her way through the store’s fruit section with two young, giggling daughters in tow, pausing to consider the stack of bananas.

“I try to buy fresh food whenever I can,” she said, putting a bunch of bananas in her cart. “It’s healthier, it tastes good and it makes you feel like a good parent when you give your kids a fresh apple instead of a Kit Kat bar.”

A recent study pointed to evidence that Bostonians such as Reeves, who focus on buying fresh foods, may be in luck. The Hub ranked eighth in a survey published Friday by Ziploc of U.S. metro areas with the freshest food available to consumers.

Ziploc, which based the survey off a 2011 Sperling’s Best Places study, defined the freshest cities as those “where residents are seeking and eating the freshest food options available, through farmer’s markets and gardening habits.”

Hartford, Conn., San Francisco and Sacramento, Calif., took the top three spots on the list, while D.C. and Minneapolis fell right below the Hub.

Boston’s high ranking on the list is “not surprising at all,” said Marlo Fogelman, a representative from the Boston Public Market Association, a non-profit organization that seeks to establish a permanent year-round farmers market, according to its website.

“Boston is a hotbed of local culinary innovation from its talented cadre of chefs and home cooks invested in putting local and sustainable food on their table,” she said in an email.

Boston’s education and income level may have influenced its ranking, said Erin Willett, the head farmer and head beekeeper of Smaht Fahm in Lunenburg, which contributes to Boston University’s Fall Farmers’ Market every year.

“I think that we see a lot of highly educated people at Whole Foods and farmers markets, and I don’t see the same for lower income people,” she said.

Boston’s rating may originate from the generally healthy Bostonian lifestyle, said Paula Quatromoni, an associate professor at BU’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

“Boston is very much a walking city,” she said. “In a city where you walk a lot, you tend to have food that is healthier.”

The harbor’s proximity makes an impact on the availability of fresh food to Bostonians, said College of Communication sophomore Hannah Weintraub.

“Boston gets a lot of fresh fish from the harbor and fresh food from around that area,” she said, adding that although she does not “think about it on a day-to-day basis,” she considers fresh food to be important to the environment and her own health.

College of Arts and Sciences junior Brittany Schwartz said concern for the environment has impacted area markets and produce shoppers.

“People are also really into the going green movement and being local,” she said. “I notice a lot of farmers’ markets and . . . local farms.”

One local farmer, Bob Marshall of Marshall’s Farm Stand in Gloucester, said Boston’s ranking took him aback.

“Being in the northeast we have such a small window to grow fresh produce,” he said in an email, “in the next five to 10 years we will be closer to the top. There is such a need for it in the big cities like Boston and it seems like the government is finally trying to help get the local farms involved.”

Despite the prevalence of local farms in the areas surrounding the city, some Bostonians said within the city itself there are more fast food places than anything else.

“I feel like there are fast food and pizza places everywhere around here,” said Justin Chang while shopping at the Star Market. “I guess it’s not as bad as other cities down south maybe, but the fast-food-to-fresh-food ratio still seems pretty skewed to me.”

Willet said Boston’s ranking would be higher if the city was more appealing to farmers.

“The city of Boston, at least in my experience, has not been the easiest to deal with,” she said, “and I think that has kind of discouraged [farmers].”

But finding fresh foods should remain a priority for consumers, said Dede Ketover, the interim executive director of the BPMA.

“Fresh, wholesome, locally grown food provides more nutrition than overly processed foods,” she said. “The more of these foods we can all get into our diets, the better our health, the local Massachusetts economy and our planet.”

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