06/05/2021 Thomas Roy/Union Leader Amisa Zuberi, right, a Fresh Start Farmer from Concord, originally from Congo, tours the new store during the opening of the Fresh Start Food Hub Market on Spruce Street in Manchester on Saturday.

A small market in Manchester celebrated its grand opening Saturday, selling locally-grown produce and working to provide healthy eats to the Center City neighborhood.

The shop, Fresh Start Market, is part of Fresh Start Farms, a program of the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success. Fresh Start Farms employs immigrants and refugees on farms in Dunbarton and Concord, growing produce sold around the state.

The farm program has been growing quickly, said program manager Jameson Small, and they had been looking for a while for a central hub.

The building at 150 Spruce St. had been vacant for years, said Robert Tourigny, executive director of housing nonprofit NeighborWorks. The empty storefront was a hub of drugs, prostitution and gambling — and a hazard for families on the block. NeighborWorks bought the building in 2019.

The group wasn’t sure what they wanted the space to be, but Tourigny didn’t want to see another vape shop or convenience store selling junk food. A neighborhood survey found nearby residents needed a grocery store.

Enter Fresh Start Farms.

Around the time NeighborWorks bought the building, Small said the Fresh Start was trying to figure out a new way to sell its produce. There were too many farmers for everyone to sell at farmers’ markets round the state, he said, and the group didn’t have a central location to pack and distribute farm shares to consumers.

Small said Fresh Start has a rent-to-own agreement with NeighborWorks for the building, and funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a grant from TD Bank paid for equipment to furnish the space.

On Saturday, the market was stocked with early-season goods, like green onions and strawberries, as well as potatoes and onions, fresh pasta and less-local produce like mangoes and bananas.

Godance Ndabumvirubusa, one of the Fresh Start farmers, said she is looking forward to selling more of her produce at the store, once it is in season. Small said the market is also buying produce from other farms in northern New England and New York, to keep the shelves stocked year-round.

In addition to providing a market for the Fresh Start farmers and other local growers, the store serves as a convenient place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Small said that of 39 convenience stores in the Center City neighborhood, only four sell fresh produce.

To give people more incentive to buy fruits and vegetables, the market is participating in a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. People who get food assistance like SNAP can buy fresh fruits and vegetables at half price. The Fresh Start Market is one of 20 stores in the state participating in the program, and the only one in Manchester.

Small said the program allows the store to sell most produce to people with food assistance for less than they could get them than big grocery stores – and, he said, the food for sale at Fresh Start Market is organic, mostly locally-grown, and supports jobs for people in the community.

Jean D’Amout Nzarulinda, mobile market coordinator for Fresh Start Farms, said he was excited to see the market open. The central location will make it easy for neighbors to get to the store, and get high-quality, affordable produce.

“The neighborhood can find food near them,” he said.