Lowell-Based Vendors Offer Fresh Produce, Locally Made Products

Winter Market Katlyn Santo Image by Brooke Coupal
Senior Katlyn Santo purchases fresh potatoes and apples from Mill City Grows.

By Brooke Coupal

Katlyn Santo walked into University Crossing and left with a bag of locally grown potatoes and apples.

The senior environmental science major from Framingham, Massachusetts, was one of the first to visit the newly launched Indoor Winter Farmers Market piloted by the Rist Institute of Sustainability and Energy.

“It’s nice to be able to grab fresh produce, that I need to cook dinner, right at the university,” she says.

The market, which features Lowell-based vendors, kicked off Nov. 16 and will take place once a month through April in University Crossing. It is an extension of the Urban Agriculture Program, run in partnership with the Rist Institute and Mill City Grows, an urban food justice organization in Lowell.

“The winter market makes it easy to shop local, meet new businesses and discover what Lowell has to offer,” says Craig Thomas, assistant director for the Office of Sustainability.

Winter Market Vanessa Nguyen Image by Brooke Coupal
Assistant Registrar Vanessa Nguyen adds locally grown carrots to her bag.

Mill City Grows presented a colorful spread of fruits and vegetables at the market. A lot of the produce was grown at their farm off Pawtucket Boulevard in Lowell’s Pawtucketville neighborhood, while the rest was brought in from other local farms.

“We’re really proud of the relationship that we have with UMass Lowell,” says Dai Kim, food access director at Mill City Grows. “Between all the space that’s been offered to us with the rooftop gardens at O’Leary Library and University Crossing and the greenhouse space over at East Campus, it just seemed organic to extend our partnership into the winter season with this market.”

Liam Neeley, a senior physics major, stumbled into the market and was excited to see the offerings from Mill City Grows.

“I’m from the more country area of Massachusetts, so it’s nice to see fresh produce available on campus,” says the Shelbourne, Massachusetts, resident.

Mim Bonn, a Lowell resident who lives near East Campus, visited the market to support the local nonprofit organization.

“I’m a big fan of Mill City Grows, so when I found out they would be at the market here, I figured I’d come and check it out,” says Bonn, who bought a few potatoes and some chard.

Winter Market Meg Sobkowicz-Kline Image by Brooke Coupal
Plastics Engineering Prof. Meg Sobkowicz-Kline checks out a bottle of Craic Sauce.
People lined up to get Craic Sauce at the market. Founder Brian Ruhlmann set up a stand showcasing the company’s various hot sauces, which are made in Lowell with locally sourced ingredients.

“This year, we sourced 7,000 pounds of peppers, and they 100% came directly from farmers within about 20 miles from us,” he says.

The company launched a limited-edition sauce, Aji Punch, on the same day as the market’s kickoff. The hot sauce featured peppers grown in the greenhouse on East Campus.

“UMass Lowell could not have been a better place to launch Aji Punch,” Ruhlmann says.

Victoria Parlee, a junior business major from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, picked up a set of hot sauces from Craic Sauce.

“I got the hot sauces for my brother,” she says. “He’s really big into hot sauce, and his birthday is coming up.”

Stacey Felix, associate director of The Solution Center, snagged some hot sauce for her husband.

“My husband loves hot sauce, and when I saw the table, I thought he’ll definitely want to try it,” she says.

Winter Market Vanessa Martarano propagation station Image by Brooke Coupal
Vanessa Martarano, a Rist Institute student eco representative, sets up a "propagation station" at the market.

Along with the local vendors, Rist Institute student eco representatives Vanessa Martarano and Victoria Wisniewski set up a “propagation station,” where community members could take a jar filled with water and clippings of an existing plant. Eventually, the plant clippings will grow roots for replanting.

The market turned out to be a hit, with many people looking forward to the next one, which is scheduled for Dec. 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the lobby of University Crossing.

“The market not only brings awareness to the sustainability efforts on campus but also local organizations in Lowell,” says Kiera Murphy, a junior psychology major from Burlington, Massachusetts.

“I love farmer’s markets. I really like to support local food,” Plastics Engineering Prof. Meg Sobkowicz-Kline adds. “I grow food myself, but it’s all shut down now, so it’s great to have an opportunity to shop at a farmer’s market in the winter.”

Farm Share Julie Nash Image by Brooke Coupal
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Julie Nash picks up a Thanksgiving Farm Share box.
UMass Lowell students, faculty and staff got to enjoy more local produce with the Rist Institute’s Thanksgiving Farm Share. Pre-boxed produce from Clark Farm in Carlisle, Massachusetts, was available on Nov. 22 for $35. The boxes included USDA-certified Real Organic potatoes, carrots, winter squashes, Brussels sprouts and more Thanksgiving favorites. They also included bundles of herbs collected from the University Crossing rooftop garden.

“I absolutely love fresh, local produce,” says Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Julie Nash, who purchased a Thanksgiving Farm Share box. “This is a great way to support local farmers.”

The Rist Institute has a popular Farm Share Program that launched in 2018. They offer a 12-week summer share, a 12-week fall share and a 24-week growing season share between June and November. The Farm Share Program briefly stalled amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but relaunched again in the summer of 2022.

“When I joined UMass Lowell’s Office of Sustainability in 2019, this was the first program I was introduced to, so being able to bring it back was one of my favorite things I did this year,” Sustainability Coordinator Nicole Kelly says. “To see our current students get excited about it, just as I had a couple of years ago, is really special.”