Farmers Freshen Up Rest Stops

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The golden arches have beckoned turnpike travelers for decades. There’s generally not much else to choose from when you’re trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and travelers haven’t come to expect more than burgers and fries from their highway service plazas.

But Massachusetts Turnpike travelers have other options to indulge their cravings. While they may still order value meals and milkshakes, they won’t be able to resist stopping at one of the stands that farmers throughout the state have set up on service center grounds as part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) farmers market program.

While other states have similar programs, the MassDOT initiative began back in 1996 and has expanded from just 11 of the state-owned turnpike service areas to all 18. Through collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, farmer data is used to mail letters to invite farmers to sell their locally grown produce and other made-in-Massachusetts products, as long as they don’t compete directly with the service plazas’ other businesses. MassDOT also distributes press releases to area newspapers and television stations and promotes the markets by attending farmers market conferences.

Currently, 22 vendors are participating in the program. There is no fee to set up shop, and participants have the benefit of constant traffic flow at the rest stops, providing them with exposure and helping boost the local economy.

According to MassDOT’s Laurie Caruso, turnpike travelers have been very pleased with the farmers markets and have sent letters and eMails with positive feedback. The farmers enjoy returning customers, too, and have the benefit of reaching consumers they might not otherwise have the opportunity to service.

Ann-Marie Vazzano was managing editor of American Fruit Grower magazine, a Meister publication.

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