Behind the Scenes: The Chelsea Produce Market

What do you get when you add a quart of tractor trailers, a cup of truckers, and a teaspoon worth of tough guys together?  A little recipe I’d like to call the New England Produce Market, aka the Chelsea Market.

The Chelsea Produce Market. Looks nice, right?

The Chelsea Produce Market is a bit of an enigma.  Somehow, some way, a couple of families/businesses/Michael Corleone-types managed to corner the majority of produce coming into New England and sell it through this giant wholesale distribution channel.  A couple of facts:

  1. Anyone can technically “shop” here, although I would recommend against it.  Walk in with cash, walk out with produce.  This ain’t no farmer’s market where you would “like one head of lettuce please”.  You must buy whole cases of produce at a time.  In addition, you will hear more four letter words in multiple languages than Ina Garten protégés pronouncing “how easy is that/Jeffery is just amazing”.  Think more machismo than foodie, tough guys hawking veggies, men using citrus reamers to squeeze your pinky toe if they sense any funny business…customer service hasn’t even been invented yet.  Savvy?
  2. That being said, almost every food service/industry in New England purchases produce at the Chelsea Market and sells it to you.  Giant grocery stores shop here.  Whole Foods shops here.  Small Chinatown markets shop here.  Restaurant wholesalers shop here.  Restaurants shop here.  Caterers shop here.  Food trucks shop here.  You get the idea.
  3. Name the produce, it is being bought and sold here.  Conventional wisdom, however, says conventional agriculture at Chelsea.  Organic veggies can be special ordered but most of the guys will look at you like “why the f**k would you eat organic anything?”  I know exactly what you’re thinking, and yes, I agree.
  4. The market is in a great location.  For truckers.  Not for you, not for me.  The market is easily accessible from 93 North/South and Rt. 1, making it a prime location for a pitstop on the way up to your favorite grocery store in Maine, Massachusetts, and  New Hampshire.
  5. The market is picturesque and aesthetically pleasing, like a real farmer’s market in the middle of Joo-lie.  Not.  There are no real farmers hawking their veggies from the back of a worn out Chevy here.  Just post-apocalyptic wet dreams from Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road, except scarier and even more depressing if that is possible.  Imagine tons of concrete, a permanent grey shadow on everything, and lots of bad attitudes.

Anyways, just a quick update as to where your food comes from if you live in the New England area.  With this gem just outside of Boston, it is worth a look to see what is really happening behind-the-scenes with conventional produce.  Just don’t expect many niceties unless your name starts with S and ends in Haws.  The real lesson from the Chelsea Market, however, is to reach out and make connections with the real local farmers in our diverse region.  Departing advice: “Hey tough guy, you’re just selling vegetables, you’re not that tough.”

Chelsea from Above. Not As Charming As A Real Farmers Market. Those are all 18 Wheelers, not a beat up Ford dealership.

What you see is what you get. Trucks, trucks, and trucks. And the occasional Ford Tauras.

Lonesome staircase at 5:30 am when market is hustling and bustling...produce market starts early.

A Mile Worth of Conventional Produce

You need more than a GPS to navigate through this crowd.

The Godfather himself getting me a case of lettuce

The Sun Also Rises? Hmmm. Looks like the ole Nuclear Power Plant is runnin' full steam close by


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