At In Season Food Shop, Local Products Are Evergreen

In SeasonWinter vegetables at In Season. Photo by Emily Tirella.

It’s an icy Saturday morning, but that doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the lively crowd at Bow Market.

Throngs of morning shoppers, dog leashes and coffee cups in hand, are milling around the market’s tiny storefronts. Some are eyeing vintage T-shirts, others are wondering if 11 a.m. is too early for a steaming plate of pierogi and kielbasa, and many are peeking in the doorway and exploring the shelves of one of the market’s newest additions, In Season Food Shop.

Inside, co-owners Bobby MacLean and Shane Clyburn are hard at work. Clyburn mans the shop’s kitchen, keeping an eye on a pot on a hot plate while grabbing a wooden spoon to stir. MacLean rings up customers’ purchases, an iPad on one arm, his onesie-clad infant daughter on the other.

“I’ve gotten really good at swiping one-handed,” he jokes to the shoppers in line.

In Season isn’t a grocery store, exactly. Or at least not like one you’ve seen before. There are shelves stocked with pantry staples—pasta, broth, tea—and refrigerator cases with cheeses and meats, but half of In Season’s tiny outpost is dedicated to a kitchen, where Clyburn and MacLean churn out prepared food made from the same ingredients available on their shelves.

In Season

Shane Clyburn. Photo courtesy of In Season.

“A big part of the values system we’re coming from is reducing food waste,” says Clyburn. “We’ve sort of realized that as we have a more complete kitchen and we have a regular seasonal menu, we can use the kitchen to reduce any of the waste from the front … Right now, the amount of food we waste is very minimal.”

Clyburn and MacLean’s friendship was founded on food. The two met working at Slumbrew, and solidified their friendship when Clyburn worked on MacLean’s food truck, Compliments Food Co., for a season.

MacLean first approached Bow in its preliminary stages—when it was “just a pile of falling-down cinder blocks,” he remembers—as a potential home for a brick-and-mortar version of Compliments. While Compliments wasn’t a good match (the Bow Market lineup was already too carb-y, MacLean says), the market’s owners mentioned they were looking for someone to sell local food products.

“I went home in a crazed fashion, got my pitch together, came down to their office the next day, and pitched it to them,” MacLean says.

When his pitch was accepted, MacLean knew exactly who he wanted by his side.

“I was like, ‘Shane, I need you,’” MacLean says. “‘No one else I know would share the same vision, and we both hustle.’”

“Whatever needs to get done, one of us—well, both of us—will get it done,” Clyburn adds. “When you’re starting a business, that’s so key.”

Hustle, and resolve, come in handy when you’re operating a tiny, locally sourced grocery store. There is no shortage of challenges for Clyburn and MacLean. One of the biggest is their lack of typical food service conveniences, like walk-in refrigeration. The size of the shop also makes it impossible for In Season to stock the amount of groceries that a typical chain grocery store would.

“You know you’re not going to walk away with a full cart of groceries,” Clyburn says. “But you’ll find the highest quality version of the products we do carry.”

Ordering the right amount of fresh produce, and dealing with surplus when it happens, is also a challenge. Fortunately, though, this is a place where the Bow Market community has been able to offer support.

“We had a bunch of red beets, gold beets, and chioggia beets, and I pulled them from the front because they were starting to get a little soft,” Clyburn recalls. “I was thinking about what to do with them, and then Chin [Kuo] from Saus came over and was checking out our produce … and he bought up all the rest of our beets.”

In Season’s beets transforming into Saus’s stuffed falafel balls is the type of food waste fairytale Clyburn and MacLean hope to take part in often.

“We’re going to be bringing local farm produce, and we don’t always have a specific recipe in mind,” Clyburn says. “So if we’re working with Saus or with Hot Box, or with the pierogis [Jaju] and the empanadas [Buenas], and they want to grab some of the produce or go in with us to order more, it helps us support more local food businesses.”

Clyburn and MacLean call themselves “storytellers”—unlike in a big box grocery store, everything they put on the shelves of In Season has a story to tell, and the shop’s mission is to share those stories with as many people as possible.

“Everyone in the production line is someone from Massachusetts or New England who is sending their kids to college, or just paying their bills, or buying grain for their cows,” MacLean says.

“And there’s a ripple effect,” Clyburn adds. “When you support a small business, they tend to hire locally, they pay above average wages, they shop locally, they’re likely to buy some of their supplies from another local business, and they’re likely to use a local accountant and a local bookkeeper.”

So, buying a beet at In Season is not simply supporting In Season—it’s supporting a vast network of producers in the local community, from the farmer who grew it to the truck driver who delivered it.

“We like the idea of New England feeding itself,” MacLean says.

To support In Season Food Shop, invest via mainvest.com or buy a pre-paid, discounted grocery tab through their Future Groceries program in store.

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