Sustaining Stillman’s: Turning a Profit at the Boston Public Market

By Kendall Vanderslice

Outside the Harvard Square Sunday Market, rain drizzles on a row of vendors as they advertise their assortments of produce, cheese, and baked goods to passersby. In a small, unassuming stall in the middle of the market, Rebecca Stillman sells a variety of meats on behalf of her daughter Kate, owner of Stillman’s Quality Meats.

Kate’s father started Stillman’s Farm over 30 years ago. Eager to find her own niche in the family business, Kate initiated Stillman’s Quality Meats on her father’s land in 2005, selling at markets all over the greater Boston area. Through the direct marketing made possible by the Massachusetts’ Farmer’s Market Association, small family farming has maintained a sustainable income for Massachusetts farmers. The ability to build relationships with customers has allowed the Stillmans to ensure their customers that they exercise the highest standards of care out of respect for nature rather than to appease third-party certifiers.

While seasonal farmer’s markets have given Kate the opportunity to start and grow her business by selling “conscientiously raised, grass fed, pasture raised meat and poultry,” it is her new stall at the year-round Boston Public Market that will give her company the space to turn a profit. Rebecca eagerly tells of the new value-added products available for sale there. From beef kebabs and peach-stuffed pork chops to house-cured charcuterie, the spread is sure to entice the crowd.

In an attempt to find new ways to sustain the business of farming in a post-agrarian culture, small farmers are turning to value-added products to boost profits. A produce farmer might, for instance, be able to sell quarts of fresh concord grapes for $5 a basket. At the end of the day, any leftover grapes will likely not make it through another market. With the addition of just a touch of sugar and half an hour over the stove, however, the farmer can sell those otherwise unusable grapes for $10 a jar in the form of jelly. By transforming their original products into something new and more valuable, farmers are finding ways to widen the scope of their sales. Creating a forum to introduce value-added products revamps the playing field for local small farmers.

Kate Stillman has eagerly joined in the game, but in the end, it is her customers who truly win.

“[Kate] survives, but it’s tough. She provides for her family,” says Rebecca . But when asked if customers are increasingly happy, Rebecca smiles demurely and nods. “Absolutely. Oh, absolutely.”

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