After years of educating people about the merits of eating a healthy diet, it’s become clear that knowledge alone is not enough to change habits. People need to have access to that healthy food by having it available in their neighborhoods at prices they can afford. This is where the Somerville Mobile Farmers Market comes in.
“We tried the approach of educating about eating healthy,” said Shape Up Somerville Director David Hudson. “This brings it right to their doorstep. We’re engaging the community.”
The Somerville Mobile Farmers Market began in 2011 and has grown every year, with sales doubling from 2011 to 2013 to more than $15,000. And most important, 85% of respondents to a survey conducted at the winter market said they were eating more fruits and vegetables because of the market.
There are three locations that host the Somerville Mobile Farmers Market each week during its season, which runs from June 19 to November 1. On Saturdays, the market is open from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at the Mystic Housing Development (530 Mystic Ave.). On Thursdays, the market stops at the Council on Aging (167 Holland St.) from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. and then moves to North Street Housing from 4 p.m.-7 p.m.
“A big part of our markets is really bringing the community together,” Hudson said. “Our main customer base is not comfortable going to the Armory. It’s not a welcoming environment for them. We want to get everyone in Somerville to come to the housing development.”
Indeed running the Somerville Mobile Farmers Market has been a big learning experience. When a community supported agriculture component was rolled out in 2012, it fell flat.
“People want to pick their vegetables,” said Kawsar Jahan, who started as a cashier during the market’s first season and is now the market’s manager. Kawsar lives in the housing development and having her at the helm has helped build the trust of fellow residents.
“Programs come in but they don’t last,” Hudson said. “There was some mistrust about the market when it first started, but our personal relationships have helped us spread the word.”
Most of the shoppers at the Somerville Mobile Farmers Market are housing development residents and/or receive food assistance, which allows them to buy the fruits and vegetables for half-price. While the market was first greeted with skepticism by some, it’s now so popular that at the busiest times extra help is needed to maintain the lines.
“Not everyone has equal access to a healthy lifestyle,” Hudson said, noting that transportation and childcare can be stumbling blocks. “They do not have the same access to healthy food. Nationally, public transportation is always lacking in underserved communities.”
The Somerville Mobile Farmers Market sources most of the food it sells from Enterprise Farm, which gets supplies from Florida in the winter. Groundwork Somerville also provides fresh produce during the growing season. The market stocks lots of greens, root vegetables and fruits, including many unique items specific to cooking in various cultures. Jahan, pictured below, said that shoppers often ask her for advice on how to prepare the various fruits and vegetables.
Any leftover food from the Somerville Mobile Farmers Market is rescued by students from Tufts University for Project SOUP, Somerville’s largest food pantry. Since the food rescue started, more than 90% of the recipients of food through the program are getting fresh fruits and vegetables, up from a mere 20% before, Hudson said.
Somerville is up for an All-American City Award this summer and will be competing under the Healthy Communities theme. Hudson, Jahan and others will travel to Denver to tell the Shape Up Somerville story. In a nod to the success of the Somerville Mobile Farmers Market, it’s taking center stage as the main focus of the skit performed during competition.
“We want to have an influence outside of Somerville,” Hudson said. “It’s not just talk. The city is trying to reach these populations and understand why they’re not comfortable. We want people to come to the market. With the community spirit and everyone coming together, it’s a unique model.”
Somerville Mobile Farmers Market
June 19-November 1
Council on Aging (167 Holland St.): Thursdays 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
North Street Housing: Thursdays 4 p.m.-7 p.m.
Mystic Housing Development (530 Mystic Ave.): Saturdays 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
Get involved: Volunteer or donate
Images courtesy of the Somerville Mobile Farmers Market.