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Public market to focus strictly on Mass. products

A public food market in Boston will feature almost exclusively Massachusetts-produced products as part of an effort to create a truly local food outlet that will not sell bananas, oranges, or other staples from outside the state.

The business plan, outlined in documents released by the state yesterday, imposes strict limits on inventory, reminiscent of a time before mass shipping when people had a more seasonal diet based on what the local land and waters made available.

Some food producers question the approach, arguing it could limit the market’s appeal to consumers, especially during the winter, when fresh produce is scare.


But state officials said the public wants Massachusetts farmers, fishermen, and specialty food makers to stock the market.

“What we heard almost unanimously from agricultural producers and the public is that they really want to fill the space with local products,’’ said Scott Soares, commissioner of agriculture.

Yesterday, his office began soliciting companies to build and operate the market, which will run year-round out of the ground floor of an existing state-owned building along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway near Haymarket.

The bids will be reviewed in March by a state commission that is overseeing the project, and officials expect the food store to open as early as next summer.

The state is also soliciting ideas for the development of a vacant plot nearby on Blackstone Street, known as Parcel 9, to become part of an expanded market district.

The area already features the weekend gathering of Haymarket pushcart vendors.

The mix of food products planned for the facility has spurred considerable debate in recent months, with some pushing for a wider variety of foods.

Soares said the market should serve as a window on local products, so providing bananas, mangos, and other such offerings would defeat the purpose.


However, he said, the state would consider the sale of products from elsewhere in New England if supplies are not plentiful in Massachusetts.

“First and foremost, the market is intended to focus on Massachusetts . . . so people can buy as locally as possible,’’ he said. Soares added that the facility will include educational materials on the state’s agricultural heritage and modern production methods.

Soares said the state’s farmers and other agricultural producers are using a variety of tools, from greenhouses to fish farms, to augment seasonal supplies.

“We did approach a number of [food producers] and we learned that they are comfortable supplying the market year-round,’’ he said.

Even so, one restaurateur said he would prefer to see the market be a hub for food from throughout New England, so it would offer the best range of products.

“There’ so much good stuff made regionally, to me it makes sense to promote all of New England,’’ said Jason Bond, owner of Bondir restaurant in Cambridge. “It’s about the people you’re trying to supply food to, so they get the best variety and quality.’’

In the request for bids issued yesterday, state officials indicated the public market commission will monitor the market’s performance and alter the product mix if necessary.

The state has allocated $4 million to help design and build the facility, which is expected to cost about $8.5 million. In coming months, Soares said, workers will begin making repairs to the building and installing utility lines.

“It’s exciting to finally see it becoming a reality,’’ said Donald Wiest, president of the Boston Public Market Association, which has been pushing for the establishment of the market for several years. “Our team is ready, and we will definitely be bidding.’’


Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.