Photos by Rachel Sandler + courtesy of Relish
I haven’t believed in love potions since elementary school, but that didn’t stop me from asking Steph Zabel, a community herbalist, for a second dose as our Herbal Tinctures and Infused Wines class at Relish: Center for Urban Agriculture came to a close. You never know, right? I handed her my compostable cup and she excitedly filled it with an aromatic, purplish-brown liquid from a small glass vial. Zabel explained that the tincture was made with damiana, vanilla, and rose petals infused in brandy and mixed with a bit of honey. Damiana, according to folk tradition, is a natural aphrodisiac.
While I am unsure as to whether or not the love potion has improved my romantic life, it did solidify my love for Relish.
Located in the center of Union Square in Sanborn Court, across the alleyway from culinary gems Journeyman, backbar, and Bronwyn, Relish opened its doors in the beginning of June as a community resource for anyone seeking supplies or information on all aspects of urban scale agriculture.
Relish is the brainchild of Mimi Graney and Mary Cat Chaikin who are integral in the operation of Union Square’s popular farmers market. Their experience there, as well as their work in a multitude of culinary and farming projects past and present, proved to them that while there is a growing interest in urban agriculture, there are few resources available for beginners.
Upcoming classes cover topics such as beekeeping, infused olive oils, aromatherapy, fermentation, and food preservation.
Relish is taking suggestions for new classes—whatever the community wants to learn or teach—but Graney stressed that each class should be hands on, tangible learning. Students of the upcoming course “The Amazing Products of The Honey Bee Hive” will leave with lip balm that they made themselves and the knowledge to do it again. My fellow classmates and I left our class with a glass eye dropper bottle full of an all-natural tincture and two Ball jars of infused wine. Classes are also offered for children ranging in weeklong sessions to just a few hours. Prices for classes range from $10 to $210 and are geared toward beginners and experts alike.
The shop is housed in a renovated garage in an elegant brick building and classes take place in a large, adjoining room.
Having the garage door open allows the sun to light the rustic shop, but at night a string of Christmas tree lights crisscrossing the high ceiling delicately illuminates the space. The high metal shelves and the space around them showcase everything from canning jars to fermentation pots, garden markers to decorative field stones, chicken feeders to compost bins. There are also a variety of items that are perfect for gifts, some which are sourced from local artisans. I couldn’t resist buying a set of eggcups for my mother’s upcoming birthday and I added about a half dozen things to my ever-growing wish list.
Those of us who drank the love potion are not the only ones who have been won over by the newly established center. Graney and Chaikin say that there is a steady stream of enthusiastic customers daily, and their first class sold out. Initially open two days a week, the shop has extended its hours to Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 5p.m. to 8:30p.m. and Saturdays from 9a.m. to 2p.m. Even before the shop opened, the center received community support. More than 100 percent of the funds needed to open were raised using crowdsourcing. To get the shop in tip-top shape, they traded beer and pizza for help with painting and cleaning.
If all this urban agriculture talk sounded like a different language to you, you should probably sign up for a class. Graney and Chaikin feel less like business owners then they do community advisors—they opened Relish because they genuinely want to share their extensive knowledge with you. “Everything we sell and teach,” Graney said, “is to accommodate the city folk.”
Whatever your niche is, or whatever you’d like your niche to become, Relish has the resources to make it happen.
RELISH. 66-70 UNION SQ., SUITE 105, SOMERVILLE. @RELISHURBANAG. RELISHURBANAG.COM