The project seeks to demonstrate that use of 8 Community Food Ambassadors can (1) enhance resident participation in a new mobile farmers’ market and (2) affect resident food consumption decisions, such that local farmers, who contribute to the mobile farmers’ market will sell a combined $45,000 in produce during 2019 and $60,000 during 2020.
The project will discover whether a new mobile market point-of-sale software as a service platform – Farmer’s Register – can be effectively used for ordering, distribution chain management, and sales tracking by a community-based mobile farmers’ market and socially disadvantaged farmers who serve low-income consumers.
ORIS will launch a Local Food Mobile Market during early summer 2019, with three-year funding from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. The Mobile Market will provide 1,500 low-income Manchester and Concord, New Hampshire residents, including 900 resettled refugee and immigrant residents, with $45,000-worth of locally grown produce during 2019.
The Mobile Market will sell produce at public and other low-income housing complexes. Many low-income individuals in these complexes cannot access existing farmers’ markets or distant grocery stores due to limited transportation and the day-of-week / hour-of-day availability. Many low-income residents do not have vehicles, while others work evening, overnight, and swing shifts. Consequently, these individuals purchase highly processed food from more accessible convenience stores. ORIS has addressed this issue with its Fresh Start Farms CSA program. However, CSA programs have their own participation limitations, including upfront and structured payment requirements, limited produce choice, and purchase model complexity.
New Hampshire / Hillsborough County data underscore these challenges. Hillsborough County (home to the largest city served by this project – Manchester) has experienced a 60.2% increase from 2010-2015 of individuals who are both low-income and have low access to grocery stores. Although New Hampshire has the second highest rate of food insecurity in New England, it has the lowest SNAP enrollment rates.
ORIS surveyed 116 housing complex residents to determine residents’ awareness of the coming Mobile Market, specific produce requests (including ethnic crops), and preferred days and times to hold markets. Most consumers mentioned price sensitivity as their major concern regarding fresh food. When asked what produce they most desired, fully 20% expressed “anything that is fresh” is desperation; many expressed that they eat only canned fruits and vegetables. Remarks included: “This will be a great idea for residents of Brown School [residence], especially those of us who have no transportation.” And: “This is a great opportunity and a help for residents to get the proper food.”
ORIS, and the 30 refugee and immigrant farmers who comprise ORIS’s Fresh Start Farms, appreciate the newness of the Mobile Market concept to its southern New Hampshire consumer base; just one other mobile
market operates in New Hampshire, but in the Seacoast region. The 2019 and 2020 seasons will be critical to the community’s adoption of the Mobile Market and its integration into Fresh Start Farms’ overall sales and growth strategy. ORIS will need to communicate several interrelated messages, including:
- What a mobile market is and what is available for sale (types of produce; individual pieces or boxes of mixed produce; etc.)
- When the mobile market arrives at specific sites
- That fresh produce is inexpensive: consumers can purchase locally grown produce with SNAP and double value vouchers
- That fresh produce is tasty, good for you, and best for cooking
Outreach and messaging at these sites, in ORIS’s opinion, must be (1) linguistically and culturally appropriate, (2) concise but enticing, (3) consistent and repeated, and (4) fun. Technology must be used, when appropriate, to remove participation barriers.
Mobile farmers’ markets have existed for more than a decade and most, whether consciously or not, employ some form of social cognitive theory. Mobile markets intersect three domains of this theory: (1) the food environment, (2) individual perceptions of the food environment, and (3) individuals’ food consumption decisions. Mobile farmers’ markets address barriers inherent in the food environment: absence of large grocery stores, prevalence of fast food, poor quality food in accessible convenience stores, etc. When mobile farmers’ markets are combined with EBT machines and SNAP/ Food and Nutrition Incentives (i.e., double value programs), low- income individuals in these communities experience meaningful access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The regular presence of mobile farmers’ markets in a neighborhood changes residents’ perceptions and expectations of the food environment: that the absence of reasonably priced fresh fruits and vegetables is intolerable.
However, changing residents’ food consumption decisions can be challenging. Eating low-quality, but inexpensive, processed, expired, or watered-down foods over extended periods of time can become normalized behavior. Residents may not be aware of the long-term, negative health impacts of regularly eating low-quality food. And many residents may lack the skills or familiarity with preparing food using fresh ingredients, or may misperceive how easy such food preparation can be. In other words, merely driving a truck full of produce to a neighborhood does not necessarily equate to consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by residents in that neighborhood.
Evidence from the Veggie Van Project in North Carolina indicated that consumers were often confused about the purpose of the mobile market, accepted forms of payment, whether or not consumers were receiving ‘seconds’, who is ‘allowed’ to shop at the market, and a range of other points. Several mobile market programs across the country (Bay Area of California, Wilmington, North Carolina, and the Twin Cities of Minnesota have launched Community Food Advocate / Curbside Food Ambassador pilots to champion the mobile market, inform residents about the market with accurate information, and creatively generate interest in the mobile market.
DC Greens maintains a Market Champions program which trains one or more residents in a neighborhood to conduct ‘in-reach’ with neighborhood residents about local farmers’ markets, help residents navigate the markets, gather customer feedback, provide peer nutrition education, and generate a buzz about market days. FoodLink in Rochester, New York just completed a Curbside Food Ambassador pilot program in fall 2018 that used 8 Ambassadors to inform others in their neighborhoods about the mobile market, build a phone tree of shoppers to notify about markets and gather feedback, and deliver nutrition education through “Cooking Matters Pop Ups” at mobile market stops. The Feast Down East in Wilmington, North Carolina utilized pre-existing neighborhood resident associations at each Wilmington Housing Authority site to build a customer base through which reliable information about the mobile market could be passed.
ORIS intends to build upon this best practice of community-based marketing in fresh-food deprived, low-income areas. First, ORIS will identify and contract 8 Community Food Ambassadors from 8 of the largest public housing complexes at which the mobile market will visit. They will: (1) conduct home visit outreach to residents with brochures and recipe cards; (2) place weekly orders for boxes of produce with residents using the Farmer’s Register application on iPads; (3) assist with weekly sales and distribution at their residence; (4) champion and participate in occasional tasting events that will immediately precede mobile market arrival. They will report to ORIS’s Market Manager. In keeping with other pilot programs, Ambassadors will receive stipends and free food for their participation. Ambassadors will also participate in pre-season resident canvasing and post-season surveying. Finally, they will participate in a focus group of all Ambassadors to facilitate an evaluation conducted by Cooperative Extension.
- City of Manchester Health Department, Catholic Medical Center and Elliot Health System. Greater Manchester Community Health Needs Assessment – 2016. https://www.catholicmedicalcenter.org/CatholicMedicalCenter/media/CMCE-Media- Library/PDFs/Greater_Manchester_Community_Health_Needs_Assessment_June_1.pdf
- Hunger in America, Report for NH Food Bank (2014). Feeding America. http://help.feedingamerica.org/HungerInAmerica/FB161_NH_Manchester_report.pdf
- Food desert data: o Low-Income and Low-Supermarket-Access Census Tracts (2017), 2010-2015 and Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Updated Estimates of Distances to Supermarkets (2012) Using 2010 Data o ERS estimates using 3 years of data from the Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement, as reported in Table 5 in the referenced report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2015 (September 2016). o Tabulations by USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), published February 3, 2017. Population data are from the U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates (2016)
- Veggie Van Toolkit and Study. Veggie Van Mobile Market. University at Buffalo. http://www.myveggievan.org/ This link ties use of mobile markets to social cognitive theory.
- Farmer’s Register: mobile point of sale system for mobile markets. https://www.farmersregister.com/
- FoodLink. Curbside Market Program, Rochester, NY. http://foodlinkny.org/fight_hunger/curbside-market/#tab-1
- Feast DownEast. Mobile Market, Wilmington, NC. https://www.feastdowneast.org/
- DC Greens. https://www.dcgreens.org/
2019 Activities Summary:
Activities are on track to launch and assess the impact of an Ambassadors program for the mobile market in 2020, where residents at mobile market sites will leverage their first-hand knowledge, expertise of their community dynamics, and rapport with their fellow neighbors to champion the mobile market (including its SNAP and Market Match accessibility) to their peers.
We conducted residential surveys at the end of our 2019 market season. At the end of the surveys, we asked customers who frequented the market throughout the season if they would be interested in becoming Ambassadors of the mobile market in 2020. Five individuals at four sites expressed interest and provided their contact information for follow-up. As we identify new community sites for the 2020 season, we are also communicating with the property managers to identify residents that would make an ideal Ambassador candidate and that we can communicate with as we complete surveys at the new sites and determine our final site schedule. We are on track to meet our target of eight Ambassadors for 2020. We are finalizing the training packet, info sheet, and other go-to materials (i.e. recipe cards and nutrition information) for the Ambassadors.
We are finalizing designs of outreach materials for next season, which Ambassadors will be equipped with to distribute in their communities. We have also been meeting with property managers and learning about various building meetings, free meals, commodity food distributions, coffee chats, educational presentations, and other site specific events that we can join in order to promote and increase public awareness of the mobile market. We are building an outreach schedule to distribute materials and present about our mobile market for 2020, along with the direct peer-to-peer promotion by the Ambassadors.
We have met with the extension agents from Nutrition Connections. We are exploring the potential of offering Nutrition Connections’ programming at the mobile market.
We are planning a series of additional promotional offerings, special deals, free samples, activities, and so on to further attract customers to the mobile market. Changing behaviors around food purchasing and consumption can be gradual and challenging. To help catalyze this change, incentives (such as those above) can be quite powerful. In the words of Duflo and Banerjee in their book, Poor Economics: “It is not easy to escape from poverty, but a sense of possibility and a little bit of well-targeted help (a piece of information, a little nudge) can sometimes have surprisingly large effects…A push on the right lever can make a huge difference.”
We are on track to collect all needed transaction and sales data, measure resident participation, and assess food consumption decisions with a sample of residents during the 2020 market season, with reporting to follow.
We are also on track to uptake the Farmer’s Register point-of-sale app during the 2020 season and test its usability, with reporting to follow.
In addition to education to Ambassadors and residents/community members, there is a component of education with farmers participating in selling to the mobile market. in January 2020 we are thoroughly reviewing with Fresh Start Farms cooperating farmers their 2019 revenue, including new sales from selling to the mobile market, and making upcoming-season production plans to meet the mobile market’s needs for projected 2020 sales. Through this process, farmers will deepen their understanding about how the mobile market is impacting their sales, efficiency, and time distribution between markets and on-farm production (see Project Outcomes). We will repeat this process after the 2020 market season, further learning the effects of an expanded and improved mobile market outreach strategy (i.e. the Ambassadors program) on mobile market success, and in turn participating farmers’ incomes and business outcomes.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
Educational and outreach activities in 2019 focused on facilitating opportunities for residents to learn about the Ambassador program and understand if it is an opportunity they are interested in participating in. Once all Ambassadors have been identified and on-boarded, they will receive further training and professional and leadership development opportunities to ensure they can perform their new Ambassador roles in 2020 with success, educating their fellow neighbors about the mobile market and engaging in peer-to-peer nutrition education. We are finalizing the training packet, info sheet, and other materials (i.e. recipe cards) for the Ambassadors.
We are finalizing 2020 consumer outreach/educational materials, which will educate residents about what the mobile market is and what’s available, where and when it stops, why eating fresh produce is important, who the farmers are, and how to participate while maximizing spending with SNAP/Market Match access and other incentives.
20 New American farmers participating in ORIS’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Program increased their sales by selling a cumulative $8099.00 to the mobile market by the end of the 2019 season. A majority of the farmers reported making more money on wholesale than they did the previous year, and intend to plan their farm production accordingly for 2020 to meet the new demand of the mobile market.
20 New American farmers also gained knowledge and awareness around the operations and function of a mobile market, how to participate in selling to the mobile market, and what products the mobile market buys-in from farmers.
We are in the initial stages of implementing the Ambassadors program and activities are on track to achieve our intended outcomes. Ambassadors have been identified at several mobile market sites and will be fully on-boarded by winter and early spring of 2020 in order to complete community “in-reach” (outreach within their own communities) leading up to, during, and after the 2020 market season.
While this project’s focus is on the Ambassadors program for the mobile market, its uptake will directly impact cooperating farmers. Through the Ambassadors’ first-hand experience and engagement with residents in their community, mobile market participation and sales are anticipated to increase. As such, the mobile market will need to purchase additional produce from the farmers to meet the increased demand, thus boosting the farmers’ incomes. As the mobile market provides a strong, profitable, and consistent new market, farmers can enjoy increased financial security.
In addition, in prior seasons farmers participating in ORIS’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Program (NASAP) would spend many hours tending to neighborhood pop-up farm stands with limited economic return. Through a successful mobile market, farmers can increase their efficiency and leverage their strengths and resources by spending significantly less time at markets and more time on their farm.
As the 2020 season approaches and NASAP farmers make their farm business plans and forecast their revenue, the mobile market is considered and its success is projected: Farmers consider what products and quantities to plant based on the mobile market, as well as the time saved from the increased efficiency in selling their products wholesale to the mobile market.
We look forward to reporting more on the impact of the project after the 2020 season is underway.
We are in the initial stages of implementing the Community Food Ambassadors program and are on track with our proposed methodology. We look forward to assessing the project’s approach, successes, and challenges and reporting on best practices and lessons learned after the 2020 season is underway.