After two years of planning, the Amherst Mobile Market had a very successful first year, closing out the series of weekly markets in October, 2020. The market met initial goals and received strong feedback from participants to begin planning for future seasons. Working to fulfill nutritional needs while reducing transportation and distribution gaps felt by Amherst’s low-income residents, the Amherst Mobile Market brought an assortment of fresh locally grown food to four different community sites weekly for eighteen weeks.
97% of Amherst residents reside in food deserts, defined as an urban area where it is difficult to buy affordable or good quality fresh food. With the 12th lowest rate of vehicle ownership in the state, purchasing food for many residents requires public transportation to and from grocery stores. Many of the buses on the public transportation routes limit the amount of bags that each rider can carry during a ride.
The initial planning process connected Amherst residents who were experiencing food insecurity, often people of color, as well as recent Latino immigrants, and this group became an important part of the Amherst Mobile Market Planning Committee. “We talked about the community that would be served by the mobile market actually running the market itself…that was an idea that community members brought to the table and that we very much supported and endorsed throughout the process” said S. Clarke Bankert of Healthy Hampshire. The goals of the market were to design and implement a mobile market model that was affordable, accessible, and worked toward sustainability, provided economic opportunity for community members, sourced food from local farms, and included culinary education. The committee chose Olympia Oaks, Butternut Farms, East Hadley Road, and Fort River Elementary school sites for the weekly markets.
“It takes a whole team-a really supportive and amazing team, to do something like this,” said Glenys Sarita, Market Manager. Many Hands Farm Corps was an integral part of the market, growing the bulk of the food but also sourcing food from other local growers to add to the offerings. Many Hands also hired the 12 employees to run the market at the four locations. “It was just a no brainer to me that people in the community should be the ones operating the market, and should be making as many decisions as possible” – Ryan Karb, Many Hands Farm manager, who had attended Planning Committee meetings from the start. Many Hands plans to continue with the market in its second year.
The mobile market employed 12 individuals in this first year. All were people of color, 11 were residents of the housing complexes that the market served. Most of these employees were also part of the planning committee. Being part of this team provided participants with the opportunity to fine-tune skills such as building consensus, group decision-making, and working in the community. “It also helps empower our community members by giving them a place to start in community leadership,” observed Jennifer Moyston, Administrative Assistant, Amherst Town Manager’s Office
For $5 per week, the farm shares provided six fresh, organic, locally grown produce items each week to Amherst residents who otherwise struggled to access fresh healthy food due to limited financial resources, limited transportation options, or mobility challenges. Employees shared recipes with customers that matched the produce available each week.
At the end of the first season, a survey found that 97% wanted to see the Mobile Market continue, 93.8% were very satisfied with locations of Mobile Market and 96.8% were very satisfied with the quality and price. Looking ahead, the organizers would like to continue to work to close Amherst’s fresh produce access gaps by continuing to cultivate leadership opportunities for publicly underrepresented residents that seed self-efficacy, job skills, and community vitality. There has also been interest in seeing the mobile market eventually expand to more sites and operate year-round.