In 2012, Sebastián Corbat was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and needed a complex bone marrow transplant to survive. The best hospital for the procedure was Dana-Farber, in Boston. Corbat and his family moved from their home in Argentina to Lexington so he could begin treatment. 

In addition to his transplant, Corbat’s doctors recommended integrative treatments. “They gave me a lot of exercises, meditation, advice on how to relax and learn to manage stress,” he says. “One part was about nutrition and how to eat organic foods.” 

The experience led Corbat, who worked in technology back in Argentina, down a very different path — he now makes traditional South American foods, including empanadas and salsas, out of fresh, natural ingredients, and sells them at farmers’ markets throughout the region, including the Lexington Farmers’ Market, which opens for the season this Tuesday. 

The market seems to represent a sort of rebirth for other vendors as well. “This was what I like to call my midlife crisis career change,” says Lexington dad Drew Maggiore of Drew’s Stews, a market stand known for its refreshing gazpachos and cucumber yogurt soup. Maggiore was drawn to the idea of “cooking and socializing and bringing all-natural food to the local community,” he says. “I found my happy place.”

Fresh produce for sale at the Lexington Farmers Market / Credit: Leslie Wilcott-Henrie

The Lexington Farmers’ Market was started in 2005 by local residents who wanted to increase access to fresh, healthy. local produce. Local farmers’ markets had long ago been replaced by big supermarket chains, and Lexington’s market was one of the first of a new breed of farmers’ markets in the area. 

“Nineteen years ago, people were coming to the farmer’s market asking ‘why can’t I buy bananas?’” says market president Leslie Wilcott-Henrie. “There was a whole education process that we had to go through for people to understand what local food means.”

The market is what’s known as a local producer-only market, which means vendors have to either grow or produce the food they sell. Some, like the century-old, family-owned Busa Farm, or Mont Vernon, NH based Black-Eyed Susan Sheep Dairy, sell products grown and raised locally. Others take ingredients that you can’t easily grow in New England, like wheat or coffee beans, and “use their own hands to make something new out of it,” Wilcott-Henrie explains. 

The organizers work hard to bring in producers that appeal to different tastes and communities here in Lexington — there’s Mei-Mei Dumplings, known for bringing together Chinese flavors and local New England ingredients, Bombay Brunch, which sells authentic Maharashtrian vegetarian food, and Corbat’s Del Sur Empanadas, to name just a few. New this year is Mind Body Snack, a superfood-based snack stand, and Lost Art Cultured Foods, a Black and female owned business specializing in organic sauerkrauts and kimchi-inspired fermented veggies.

“It’s sort of a small-business incubator,” Wilcott-Henrie says. Through the years, there have been a number of businesses that started at the farmers’ market and developed into brick and mortar shops. “Taza Chocolate — we are one of the first places they sold when they first started out, now you can buy their products around the world,” she says. Bread Obsession is another example. 

Serving an economically diverse customer base is also essential — the Lexington Farmers’ Market was the first market in the MetroWest area to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and to supplement that by matching SNAP dollars with up to $15 per week. The matching program is funded by donations and also benefited from an ARPA grant. Last year, there was a 50% increase in the number of people using food assistance at the market. “People have an impression that there isn’t need for food assistance in Lexington, but there is,” Wilcott-Henrie says. “I don’t love that more people need food assistance, but I’m happy that they are coming to the farmers’ market.”

The Lexington Farmers’ Market was originally run by volunteers, but since 2017 has employed a paid market manager; this year the market welcomes Kim O’Brien — yet another person who left an office job (she was an employment and labor attorney) for work that’s focused on health and community. 

“It’s not solely about food and farming, it’s also a gathering space,” Wilcott-Henrie says. “It’s become such a vibrant access point for healthy, local food, and for community. I think that’s why we’ve been around for 19 years.”

“And it’s delicious!”

The Lexington Farmers’ Market opens for the summer season on Tuesday, and takes place at the Worthen Road Practice Field every Tuesday, rain or shine, from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., May 30 — October 31. 

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