The food revolution JP almost had

December 4, 2009
By

John Ruch

Farmers market, grocer at Brewery falls through

JP Food and Drink

BROOKSIDE—It’s the kind of idea that makes Jamaica Plain’s mouth water: a year-round farmers market with pedal-powered delivery, and a new branch of the South End’s popular, sustainable-food grocer Lionette’s Market, all in The Brewery complex on Amory Street.

Over the past several months, the plan got as far as picking a space in the Brewery and hashing out logistics with the landlord. But then came the glitch: financing.

“No lending institution would lend us a penny,” said Jamey Lionette, the JP resident who owns Lionette’s Market. “We sought out traditional and non-traditional lending institutions. They all said it was a ‘risk.’”

That means Lionette’s won’t be expanding anytime soon, he said. It also appears to put a brake on the larger ambitions of CropCircle, a local non-profit organization that formed earlier this year and rescued a commercial kitchen incubator program that still operates in The Brewery, offering assistance to 25 small food companies. CropCircle would have run the farmers market under a sublease with Lionette’s.

CropCircle president Jonathan Kemp did not respond to Gazette questions for this article.

The Brewery is owned by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), whose work includes business assistance. Sally Swenson, the JPNDC’s fund-raising and communications director, said that businesses are having a hard time getting financing in the current economy.

“We didn’t have any opposition to the idea,” Swenson said of the Lionette’s plan. “It’s not just home-buyers [who struggle to get credit] these days. It’s everyone.”

Lionette was a co-founder of CropCircle, though he resigned from its board as part of the planning for The Brewery location. Another CropCircle founder is the president of Metro Pedal Power, a tricycle delivery company that would have served the Brewery market, Lionette said. The tricycle company currently delivers Lionette’s groceries to JP and other neighborhoods from the South End location.

In e-mails to the Gazette, Lionette described the plans for the market. They were designed to expand on the Lionette’s Market philosophy of food: “Keep it clean and local, treat food as sustenance, not [a] commodity, and the benefits will be huge.”

The new Lionette’s Market would have been larger than the South End location and offered more homemade products made with local ingredients, including jams, canned foods, sauces and meats. The larger space would have allowed for cooking demonstrations and other events.

CropCircle’s farmers market would have offered year-round produce from regional farms. “We also were planning with The Brewery to build a root cellar to help area farmers store winter crops in the city (thus ensuring local food every day of the year, even during snowstorms),” Lionette said.

Unlike many non-corporate grocery stores, the new market was “not going to be for the wealthy elite. We would be able to offer as much affordable food as we would higher-priced food,” Lionette said, explaining that using locally grown food lets the market alter its price structure more freely. “We also would work with various ideas on reducing prices for low-income JP residents.”

The new Lionette’s and the farmers market would have had full-time bilingual staff members who could speak English and Spanish. “Where else is there a farmers market where a Spanish-speaking immigrant can buy food in Boston?” asked Lionette.

“JP is great for many reasons…The potential was great,” Lionette said. “Think about it this way. The current JP farmers market sells food! In the South End, the farmers market sells jewelry and crafts. There is definitely a large amount of people in JP who would be interested in what we proposed.”

Two seasonal, outdoor farmers markets operate in JP. One is in the Bank of America parking lot in central JP and the other is in the Community Servings parking lot on Marbury Terrace near The Brewery.

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