Valley Bounty: Amherst Mobile Market
Published July 1, 2023 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
With Amherst Mobile Market, Community Shapes its Own Food Future
By Jacob Nelson
FOR THE GAZETTE
In places where fresh food is expensive or hard to get to, mobile farmers markets are one way to break down barriers. For people without reliable transportation, mobile markets bring food to them instead. Plus, many in Massachusetts accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and HIP (Healthy Incentives Program) benefits, or other ways to pay besides cash.
The Amherst Mobile Market does all of these things, but they’re also dreaming bigger. By empowering people they serve to call the shots, they’re helping form the relationships and resources their community needs as only they know how.
“We are a community driven, bilingual mobile farmers market bringing affordable, fresh produce to Amherst’s food desert neighborhoods,” says Rossana Salazar, community engagement specialist for the Collaborative for Educational Services, who’s Healthy Hampshire initiative helps run the market.
Adds Kristen Whitmore, special projects coordinator, “Like other mobile markets we’re getting fresh food to people who have challenges accessing and affording it. But we’re also creating jobs, building community bonds, and helping people who are often excluded from decision-making step into their power to create the local food system they want for themselves.”
Both stress that The Amherst Mobile Market is for everyone – low or high income, Spanish or English speaker, chef or culinary newbie.
“You might get to know people, languages and food you wouldn’t normally interact with,” says Whitmore, “and that’s a big part of building community.”
Statistically, 1 in 4 Amherst residents live more than a mile from a grocery store, and 11% lack access to a vehicle. For those riding public buses, Salazar says it can take over 2 hours round-trip to buy food, taking home only what they can carry. You could drive from Amherst to Boston or Albany before someone riding the bus was back home with groceries.
“I think there’s a misconception that Amherst is just a wealthy community with no need for food access work,” says Whitmore. “Despite the rich local agricultural landscape, concentrated pockets of wealth in town mean many people still don’t have access to fresh food.”
Residents facing these challenges are well aware of them. In 2017, a Healthy Hampshire food access assessment highlighted them formally. From 2017 to 2019, Salazar and Healthy Hampshire staff gathered ideas and priorities from a diverse, multilingual group of Amherst residents and organizations on what to do about it.
The Amherst Mobile Market surfaced as one multifaceted solution. It would bring food directly to communities in need, employ people from those communities, be governed by those communities, and serve as a social and informational hub.
To source fresh food, they would partner with a local farm. From the market’s pilot season in 2020 to 2022 that was Many Hands Farm Corps, who brought their produce and that of other local growers, including Warner Farm, Kitchen Garden Farm, and Riverland Farm in Sunderland and J & J Farms in Amherst. In 2023 the market will partner with Mycoterra Farm and its sister business Mass Food Delivery.
Community Driven and Bilingual
In the eyes of organizers, ensuring the Amherst Mobile Market remains community-driven is crucial. That means creating ways for all affected parties to guide the market, making them feel safe and welcome, and honoring their efforts.
These intentions are exemplified by the planning committee that governs the market. Comprised of four Amherst residents, one town councilor, and two staff from Healthy Hampshire, this committee makes decisions about how the market operates together as a group. Members are honored with stipends for participation, caregiving, transportation, and language access needs.
Today, the market planning committee is a sub-group within the Hampshire County Food Policy Council (HCFPC). They are a broader group applying the same community-driven practices to channel the collective power of communities they serve to build a more resilient and equitable food system across Hampshire County.
Everyone is welcome to join planning committee meetings to help create the market they want to see, with details posted on HCFPC’s website. Spanish and English interpretation are available at all meetings for those that want it, a testament to organizers’ commitment to language justice and fostering bilingual connections.
“We also translate all of our market signage, our website is bilingual, materials for running the market are bilingual for our own staff, and they can help shoppers in both languages,” says Whitmore.
Adds Salazar, “We want everyone, even if they’re just learning either language, to feel safe and welcome at the market.”
Bilingual community events and activities are often co-hosted with the market. These have included Latin dance, cooking demos, and the Jones Library signing people up for library cards. They’ve also welcomed service providers offering help in multiple languages – lawyers providing information about the immigration system, for example.
This Year and Beyond
There are four ways to shop at the Amherst Mobile Market: shopping in-person, pre-paying with SNAP for a weekly produce share chosen in-person, pre-ordering online for in-person pickup, or pre-ordering online for home delivery. Cash, credit card, SNAP, HIP, or WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and Senior farmers market coupons are all accepted. The market’s website gives clear instructions for all options in English and Spanish (amherstmobilemarket.com).
This year there’s only one in-person shopping location at 248 East Hadley Road, open Saturday 10-2 now through the end of September. In the future, it’s likely they will expand again to more sites. Meanwhile their new partnership with Mass Food Delivery means shoppers can now order from a vast catalogue of food from local farms and businesses for home delivery.
“That’s been a fantastic benefit of partnering with them,” says Whitmore. “As has their experience running multi-lingual mobile markets in eastern Massachusetts.”
Initial funding for the Amherst Mobile Market came from a Blue Cross Blue Shield grant in 2019. In a nod to their success, they will also receive American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from the Town of Amherst this year and next. Besides that, all operating costs and stipends from community members have been fundraised from the community.
“We’re always looking for supporters,” says Whitmore, “whether that’s donating, coming to planning committee meetings, or the best way to support us – coming to shop. Come be part of this community.”
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To learn more about farms and farmers markets of all kinds in your neighborhood, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.