MANCHESTER, NH — Godance Noabsumuirubzsa came to the city from Burundi in 2007 and, two years later, the mother of five decided she wanted a garden to provide fresh vegetables for her family.
She started her garden near the housing project and while that garden is a mainstay she now is among 30 immigrant and refugee farmers who grow their vegetables on farms in Concord and Dumbarton through Fresh Start Farms’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
Their organic produce is sold wholesale to schools and businesses, at farmers’ markets across the state, through the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program and SNAP accessible neighborhood farm stands in the greater Manchester area.
And now the farmers are taking their vegetables directly to their customers.
On Tuesday, Noabsumuirubzsa brought her 2-year-old son Joel Ndayishimiye, who was munching on a peach from Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis, to see the official launch of the Fresh Start Food Cart, a mobile farm stand featuring the produce she and her colleagues have cultivated.
Among the dozens at the event, held outside the Elmwood Garden and Community Center, 83 Trahan St., were Mayor Joyce Craig, other residents, officials from the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS), Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation and representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster and U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas.
The “Fresh Start Food Cart” trailer is colorful and, on its side, features an African woman carrying vegetables in a bowl balanced on her head, and fruits and vegetables including corn, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, lettuce, blueberries and more. The opened side displays the beautiful vegetables the farmers have grown including carrots, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, onions, herbs and more.
The pilot program began in July and, depending on the weather, expects to continue through Thanksgiving. The mobile farmers market operates on Thursdays and Fridays, making three stops each day at different sites, to sell the organically-grown produce in neighborhoods and at community centers where residents do not have easy access to nutritious, fresh food and where there is a high concentration of low-income or at-risk residents.
Mukhtar Idhow, executive director of ORIS, said the organization has been providing services for about nine years but this is the first year they’re selling fresh, local fruits and vegetables directly to area residents where they live and work.
So far, he said they have served 550 customers this summer at six sites: On Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Easterseals, 555 Auburn St.; Thursdays, 1 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., Easterseals, 200 Zachary Road; Fridays, 11 a.m. to noon, Sweeney Apartments, 750 and 790 So. Porter St.; Fridays, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., O’Malley Apartments, 259 Chestnut St., and Fridays, 2 to 3 p.m., Burns Apartments, 55 So. Main St.
Anyone is welcome. Under ORIS’ Market Match program, those receiving EBT/SNAP benefits receive $20 worth of fruits and vegetables for every $10 purchase.
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation (HPHCF) gave ORIS a $180,000 grant for the Fresh Start Food Market, awarded over three years.
While Idhow thanked HPHCF, its president Karen Voci said the real thanks go to the farmers and ORIS who stepped up when they saw the need.
William Brewster, vice president of NH Regional Market for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care noted that, as a doctor, he recognizes the importance of eating fresh healthy food for preventative care.
“We know that some families in our neighborhoods don’t have access to, nor can they afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for their families,” he said. “This mobile market is an innovative way to bring affordable produce directly to individuals who need it most.”
This is the second mobile farmers’ market in the state. Harvard Pilgrim Foundation also helps fund the Seacoast Area Mobile Market (SAMM) that makes stops across Milton, Rochester, Farmington and Dover.
Harvard Pilgrim also funded mobile markets in Worcester and Lowell, Mass., Hartford, Conn. and Lewiston, Maine. Two others are launching this month in New Bedford, Mss. and Bridgeport, Conn.
Idhow said part of ORIS’ mission is increasing the availability and accessibility of healthy nutritious food for everyone in the community.
To learn more about the project, visit freshstartfarmsnh.com