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Elm Bank Hosts 15th Massachusetts Marketplace Festival

About 60 businesses, new and old, showcased local products at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society event.

Local commuters bound for Boston might have noticed a strange sight as they navigate Route 9 East: a vegetable garden among the office buildings on the campus of Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare in Wellesley.

“It’s a program for the staff there,” explained Jessie Banhazl of Green City Growers, which maintains the garden. “They get to volunteer there and learn how to grow and hopefully take that information home with them and be able to go back into their communities and teach other people how to grow food.”

Based in Somerville, Green City Growers installs and maintains gardens—mostly the raised-bed variety—in homes, schools, nursing homes and businesses throughout Greater Boston. On Saturday, the three-year-old business was one of about 60 showing off its goods at the Massachusetts Marketplace Festival at the in Wellesley.

In its 15th year, the festival has become increasingly popular among vendors and attendees. This weekend, about 1,500 people streamed onto the Elm Bank grounds.

“We have a lot of repeat vendors,” said Michael Opton, the marketing director for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which hosts the event. “We’ve built relationships with many of them over the years, so we just kind of remind them of the festival with an e-mail or a letter. But we also seek out new vendors.”

One of this year’s newest was Whoopie Monster, a startup launched in June by co-owners Allison Werntgen and Danielle Wachs. The pair works out of a shared kitchen space in Jamaica Plain, crafting miniature whoopie pies in unconventional flavors, like salted caramel.

Without their own storefront, Werntgen and Wachs take their treats to festivals, like the one on Saturday at Elm Bank, and to farmers’ markets in Roslindale, Milton, Framingham and Jamaica Plain.

Back again this summer was Marketplace Festival staple Sunshine Farm, which also makes the rounds at various farmers’ markets but does maintain its own farm stand. On Saturday, the Sherborn business offered a rainbow of seasonal produce, the top sellers being corn, tomatoes, peaches and berries.

In recent years, Sunshine Farm has discovered a selling system called Community Supported Agriculture, a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative.

“People pay at the beginning of the year to get a weekly box of produce,” explained Katie Geoghegan, who was busily manning the Sunshine stand. “And it’s called a share because they’re kind of agreeing to get whatever we have, and if something happens like the tomato blight last year, it’s saying, ‘You agreed to be part of this, so we have issues and we don’t have tomatoes, but we’re going to give you a ton of whatever else we have.’ They actually end up getting more than what they paid for, but it’s not going to be perfect. We pack the boxes.”

Geoghegan said Sunshine Farm’s CSA has between 60 and 70 members this year.

Perennial Marketplace Festival patrons likely observed an increase in the number of food venders this year. Opton said MassHort made a concerted effort to shift the event’s focus toward food and away from crafting. Whole Foods was a valuable festival underwriter for years, Opton said, but pulled out because it believed the event has drifted from its agricultural roots recently.

“That was kind of a wakeup to us that maybe we should be more about food,” Opton said, “especially locally produced food.”

Opton said MassHort hopes this year’s food focus will help win back its top sponsor in the future.

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