Southern New Hampshire refugee-farmers will be going mobile this season, selling fresh fruits and vegetables at five Manchester locations.
The Fresh Start Food Cart will be delivering produce the farmers have grown this summer in cooperation with the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success. For 11 years, ORIS has been providing farming opportunities for refugees who live in New Hampshire.
This is the first season for the food cart. A van will pull a brightly colored trailer that will visit Manchester locations on a weekly basis. Plans call for Concord locations next year.
The food cart kicked off on Sept. 10 with farmers, ORIS staff, city officials and representatives from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, which donated $180,000 over three years toward the purchase of the vehicles.
“It takes a group effort to bring something like this to fruition,” said Mayor Joyce Craig during brief remarks. She praised the effort to provide healthy food options to the city.
“We couldn’t be prouder to be 100 percent behind you,” said Karen Voci, president of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.
The organization has funded similar efforts on the Seacoast as well as in Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut.
The refugees and immigrants who tend plots in association with ORIS do so as entrepreneurs.
They plant the seeds and tend the crops, said Laurel Witri, the food access specialist at ORIS. The farmers then sign up Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) clients. At this time of year, they arrange for sales through CSAs and markets.
“They are running their own businesses,” Witri said. Many also work second-shift jobs, she said.
“It’s hard work,” said Concord resident Batulo Mahamed, 36, a mother of two who is in her second year growing crops.
She grows her crops in Concord on land behind St. Paul’s School. ORIS also owns a farm in Dunbarton and about 30 people grow produce between the two locations.
“When it all comes in, it’s all good,” Mahamed said.
All good, meaning she will get paid for her work. Last year, she earned $2,000 from farming. But she expects more this year; she has more CSA customers and the Fresh Start Food Cart will deliver produce to more customers, she said.
Mahamed has been in the United States for 14 years, moving here from Somalia.
The mobile market will visit two Easterseals locations on Thursdays. On Fridays, it will visit three public housing projects designated for the elderly and disabled. It will also deliver food to the Farnum Center, a residential drug treatment facility, but that will not be open to the public.
Scheduled stops will take place up to Thanksgiving.
Mukhtar Idhow, executive director of ORIS, said the Food Cart will focus on neighborhoods with high concentrations of poor people who lack easy access to food or access to reliable transportation.
The Food Cart accepts SNAP/food stamp EBT cards and will provide a dollar-for-dollar credit for customers who pay with SNAP.