By Francie Lin, GFN Writer-in-Residence I think everyone would rather forget the early pandemic days…
This summer our Food Access work expanded with the addition of the Mobile Market Pilot. For 10 weeks during the heart of the growing season, we packed up our van with fresh fruits and vegetables and delivered them to Hampshire Heights and Meadowbrook Apartments. As we’d pop up our tent and begin setting out the week’s choices, residents would begin arriving, eager to say hello and fill their reusable bags.
Participants were able to purchase a 10-week farm share and to choose any four items from Crimson & Clover Farm, as well as either fruit or corn from other local farms. Shares were heavily subsidized, so that customers paid $3 per week for produce worth $11. They were also able to pay for their share with SNAP benefits and, in doing so, earn a rebate to their SNAP account through the statewide Healthy Incentives Program (HIP).
In addition, shareholders and any other customer — whether from the neighborhood or not — could purchase these same items at wholesale cost. Michael Skillicorn, Grow Food Northampton’s Director of Programs and Mobile Market Pilot leader, recalls this interaction with a new customer: “A neat moment was when a first-time shopper came to check us out. I weighed and rang up his produce and told him the price: $4.75. ‘That’s it? I’m going to go buy more!’ Something you don’t hear very often in the grocery store.” Throughout the season, $5,000 worth of produce was distributed.
The Pilot came out of over a year of community engagement work with the Food Access Advisory Committee, a group convened by Healthy Hampshire, including residents of Northampton housing communities, to address barriers to healthy food access in the region. After the Committee chose mobile markets as a priority strategy to address food security, Grow Food Northampton was selected to run the pilot because of our experience running similar programs. Healthy Hampshire, through a federal grant managed by the City of Northampton, funded the operating costs for the pilot, and Cooley Dickinson Health Care provided funding for the food subsidy. River Valley Co-op agreed to provide locally sourced produce that was not available through Crimson & Clover, with no markup, to ensure greater choice at affordable prices.
Resident organizers from each of the housing communities were instrumental in guiding the design of the program and its evaluation, and they provided deep outreach to their community before, during, and after the pilot. Our collaboration with the Mobile Market Working Group also continued. At monthly meetings, we heard from organizations in the Hilltowns and Quaboag Valley regions about their food security efforts, and shared our successes and challenges.
“After all the meetings, planning, and community organizing, it’s a thrill to see all these vegetables actually show up every week!” -Heather Craig, Meadowbrook resident
Michael Skillicorn, Grow Food Northampton’s Director of Programs, said “Working together with community members is the most exciting part of the process for me. The high level of collaboration, trust and accountability between us creates a foundation for long-term success.” The feeling of community and joy was palpable each week the market was set up.
“We have always known that our residents care about good,fresh food. But it’s not always affordable or convenient. Having all this low-cost food grown at local farms and available in the neighborhood is a huge step for building community and improving health.” -Edgardo Cancel, the Hampshire Heights liaison for the program and President of the Hampshire Heights Tenants Association
Comparing participant survey results from before and after the Pilot, we were happy to see some significant positive results. Respondents confirmed that they felt healthier overall and had increased confidence in their ability to meet their daily food needs.
“Thank you for bringing all this awesome produce to us. I looked forward to it every week.”
The success of the Mobile Market Pilot confirmed our suspicions that expanding our complementary Red Bag Family Share to neighboring housing communities would be a welcome addition. Following the end of the Mobile Market Pilot, we continued to visit Hampshire Heights each week, delivering a farm share. In addition, we added Florence Heights to the mix, a place that is often ‘left out’ because it’s outside of town and somewhat isolated. Getting to know families and their unique food access challenges has been really informative. It has been a pleasure to continue to see the same faces each week, through to the end of the growing season.
“I loved the samples that were available. I also loved the information and recipes about the produce offered. Thank you!! Also, more options for substituting choices. You all rock!!”
“I am so pleased with the program this year. My children are happy with the fresh veggies, even if I hide it in pasta sauce.”