Valley Bounty: Go Fresh Mobile Market
Daily Hampshire Gazette, July 5, 2021
The Go Fresh Mobile Market brings fresh, local fruits and vegetables to a dozen Springfield neighborhoods each week. As market coordinator Timothy Williams explains, “Many of these communities may not otherwise have options for this kind of food, whether because it’s not accessible or not affordable.” They hope to lower both those barriers to a happier, healthier Springfield by bringing the food directly to people and building awareness about programs that make fresh, local food more affordable.
The mobile market is coordinated by Wellspring Harvest – a Springfield-based farm specializing in hydroponic greens – and is further supported by a broad network of community organizations that advise it, farms that grow for it, and partner sites that welcome a weekly pop-up market during the summer months.
Most of these market stops are hosted by community or housing organizations that serve seniors and low-income residents. “We’re really trying to reach out to marginalized communities,” says Williams. “Communities who are often overlooked or forgotten. A lot of our customers are senior citizens, or people who qualify for SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) – hence the weekly market locations.”
“Essentially what we’re trying to do,” he says, “is to eliminate the choice many people must make between buying more expensive fruits and vegetables to eat today, or cheaper food that will last their family a week. Instead, we want to make it possible to eat healthy, and to be healthy, while on a budget.”
Helping people take advantage of the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) is key to resolving this conundrum. All SNAP recipients in Massachusetts are automatically enrolled in HIP, which gives them access to additional funds that can be used to buy local produce at certain vendors. CISA maintains an updated list of current HIP vendors in the Valley, including many mobile markets, farmers’ markets, and local retailers, at www.buylocalfood.org/hip-map/.
“HIP is essentially free money,” says Williams. “For a family of 1-2 it’s $40 per month, for 3-5 people it’s $60, and for larger families $80. This total is reset at the beginning of each month. As long as you have a balance left on your SNAP EBT card, you still can access your full HIP benefits.”
As helpful as this program is, giving people more access to healthy local food and farmers access to more customers, it can be difficult to build trust and awareness among potential users. It’s a relatively new program (started in 2017) and Go Fresh Mobile Market sites are some of the few places in Springfield that accept HIP for payment, Urban Artisan Farm and Gardening the Community’s farm stores being the others.
Many are skeptical at first, shares Williams. “They’re like, ‘I have free money for fresh produce? And I can buy it here?’. They think they can only get that at a place like Whole Foods. Last week I spoke with one woman who was skeptical that this was a scam, or would take away from her SNAP benefits. But as I explained the program, she was like ‘Praise God, free money? Wow!’”
This misconception that using HIP will also draw down your SNAP benefits is common, he says, but that’s not the case. Once someone makes a HIP-eligible purchase with their SNAP card, that money is immediately reimbursed back onto their card. Go Fresh Mobile Market’s accepts most other forms of payment as well.
Williams attributes much of the market’s success in expanding food access to the strong relationships they’ve built with a growing list of partner sites and the communities that surround them.
“A lot of these marginalized groups feel like they’ve been forgotten or discarded,” he says. “So, the fact that we’re reaching out to them, not asking them to come to us – there’s a certain level of respect that’s been generated from that. We want to show people that we are part of a community that does care about you, and wants to see you prosper, to be healthy.”
On market days, the Go Fresh Mobile Market van will visit up to four different sites for a few hours each, timed to best serve that particular neighborhood. At each stop, “we can run an open market, just deliver pre-made boxes of fresh produce, or offer a hybrid market with both,” says Williams.
Open market runs just like a farmers’ market booth, where customers can browse and buy what they want. During COVID only the pre-packaged produce boxes were available. “It allowed for more social distancing,” says Williams. Now as restrictions ease, “most people prefer to pick their produce themselves, ask questions – it makes it way more personal.”
Since much of it is local, the produce available varies with the season. They also carry some non-local staples, like citrus. “Right now, we have things like kale, lettuce, greens, broccoli, sugar snap peas,” says Williams. Last week they even had local strawberries. Supplying farms include Wellspring Harvest themselves and several local farms north of the city, including Warner Farm in Sunderland and The Farmer and The Cheese in Hadley.
To stay updated on the Go Fresh Mobile Market’s scheduled stops and what seasonal produce is available, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GoFreshSpringfield/.
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)