Keeping Produce Local with Pemberton Farms Marketplace

Pemberton Farms MarketplacePhoto by Sasha Pedro.

(617) 491-2244

More than 89 years after starting as a small fruit and vegetable shop, Porter Square’s Pemberton Farms hasn’t stopped growing. “We never get comfortable. We’re always innovating and changing with trends and times,” says third-generation owner Tom Saidnawey. “We’ve expanded our physical presence as well as gotten far more in-depth with all categories in our store. So people can come in here and shop us like a supermarket … like a Whole Foods kind of store, only better.”

The key to competing with bigger, but still ecologically focused, chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s? According to Saidnawey, it’s keeping everything local. “Whether it’s vegan, plants, wine, or anything, we just work with as many local purveyors as possible. We try to stay as niche as possible.”

But the specicity doesn’t prevent Pemberton from having a wide range of choices for its customers. “We’re all-inclusive under one roof,” he says. “You can come in here, get a bouquet of cutowers, a bottle of wine, a box of pasta, everything you need.”

And if you want to reduce waste by eliminating the bottle and the box? That’s where the fourth generation of Pemberton Farms comes in. Greg Saidnawey, the market’s general manager, is spearheading an effort to reduce waste store-wide.

To that end, Pemberton Farms now stocks a wide array of zero-waste products, which customers can buy without any packaging. This is for both the dedicated eco-consumer, as well as for “people who want to try something new,” according to Greg, the younger Saidnawey. This is because, to him, the key to reducing waste isn’t just providing less wasteful products, but making waste reduction more accessible in everyday life.

That’s why Pemberton’s coffee comes in both compostable and recyclable cups. “How many people have access to compost bins if they’re taking their coffee to their office? They can more easily find a recycling bin. Recycling is much more accessible to more of our shoppers,” says Greg. He wants Pemberton to provide as many opportunities as possible to reduce waste, and then let customers decide which methods work best for them.

One particular initiative that’s proven successful at the market is something called “boomerang mugs,” an Australian idea Greg found on social media. “It’s really taken off,” he says. “It’s a mug library. ‘Take a mug, leave a mug,’ bring in some old mugs you want to donate and then you get 25 cents off your coffee if you decide you want to use one of these randomly donated mugs. We wash everything in-house, and now we’re washing 30-plus mugs a day.”

While the mugs are for the library and not technically for sale, some people do ask to buy them. “If you want to take home a mug, you can just donate two dollars to the library and that allows us to go down to China Fair or Goodwill and replace it,” explains Greg, never failing to take advantage of a chance to name-drop a fellow local business.

Every option serves to help the store divert as much waste to compost from landfills as possible. While the store has no official numbers on waste reduction ready yet, Pemberton hopes to be able to release them soon.

“Now that other countries won’t buy our trash, it either goes into the ocean or a landfill or we need to make less of it,” says Greg.

The elder Saidnawey, however, remains optimistic about the future: “Hopefully we’ll get this place to be 150 years old,” says Tom. “We’re one of the very few family operations left in the city.”

This story appears in the Sept/Oct/Nov print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Cambridge (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

Like what you’re reading? Consider supporting Scout on Patreon!