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In Manchester, a 'farm stand on wheels' aims to make fresh food more accessible

Molly Stark, program coordinator of ORIS Mobile Market
Bol Nakdimo
Molly Stark works at the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success Mobile Market at the Thomas B. O'Malley Apartments on in Manchester.

Every other week, Molly Stark brings a van filled with berries, corn and so much more to neighborhoods across Manchester that would otherwise have little access to locally grown produce. Being consistent, Stark says, is key.

“I've been at every stop and I have developed relationships with a lot of my customers,” Stark said. “You know what they're going to want. This particular lady loves garlic scapes, [so we offer] a few extra just so she has them.”

This “farm stand on wheels,” run by the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, launched in Manchester in 2019 and has since grown to include stops in Nashua and Concord. But it’s playing an especially critical role this year in the Queen City, where — unlike many other New Hampshire communities — there isn’t a traditional summer farmers’ market.

Some of the produce offered at the mobile market comes directly from Fresh Start Farms, an initiative run by ORIS that gives immigrants and refugees a chance to advance their farming skills while producing healthy food for local communities. There’s also food from other local producers, too.

Stark said making this food more accessible is just one step; making sure it’s affordable is also important.

“I think food access is about the choice of like, if you want to eat healthy and you want to get those fresh fruits and vegetables, you should be able to at an affordable price near you,” Stark said.

ORIS relies on collaborations with banks, hospitals and social service organizations to help make this food more accessible to local families in need. Through one partnership with Elliot Health System, the organization is able to offer 60 vouchers, each worth $30 in food from the market, to 60 families affiliated with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Manchester, which is one of the van’s regular stops. Similar voucher programs are offered at other mobile market locations.

Mobile Market at the O'Malley Apartments on August 04, 2022
Bol Nakdimo
The Thomas B. O'Malley Apartments is one of the regular stops for the mobile market.

This mobile market is one of several ways ORIS delivers local produce, in addition to traditional farmers markets and home delivery. ORIS Executive Director Muktar Idhow said the markets saw increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic from people, particularly older adults, looking for safer ways to shop for food. He said they took on home delivery “in part because of the risk of people who normally would have gone out to shop or making a request online for us to deliver food to their homes.”

To get the word out about the ORIS Mobile Market, the organization relies on help from a community ambassador at many of its locations — a local resident who can help make sure their neighbors know about this resource.

Karen Bergeron fills that role at her apartment building on Manchester’s West Side. She said she loves her job and the cause.

“We had to put signs up, and I told people and reminded them,” Bergeron said. “This year has been the best so far and the variety of stuff is a little better.”

The ambassadors also served as an essential line of communication between ORIS and the communities it serves. During the pandemic, they helped to shop for food on behalf of their neighbors.

Stark, the mobile market coordinator, said she tries to help customers who might be running low on money or food stamp benefits, in part by offering vouchers to those in need. The market also gives her a window into other pressures community members are facing. 

“It is challenging. I mean, people talk about, ‘Oh, great, I have this affordable food, but there's no AC right now for me and I'm dying in the heat,’ or like ‘My housing, they’re raising rents,’ or whatever it is,” she said. “So I definitely see this as like a way of connecting to the community to hear other resources.”

Stark said she’s trying to make more resources available at the market, for example by helping people sign up for SNAP benefits.

Some families said they’ve also found the market especially helpful amid rising food prices at traditional grocery stores. Jessica Carter, a parent and a returning customer, said it’s both convenient and budget-friendly.

“You can see how much more expensive it is at Hannaford versus this cart,” Carter said.

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