Final report for ONE19-349
This Northeast SARE project sought to demonstrate that use of Community Food Ambassadors at mobile market sites can (1) enhance resident participation in a new mobile farmers’ market and (2) affect resident food consumption decisions, increasing the sales of local farmers who contribute to the mobile farmers’ market. The project also sought to evaluate the use of a new mobile market point-of-sale platform – Farmer’s Register – for ordering, distribution chain management, and sales tracking by a community-based mobile farmers’ market and socially disadvantaged farmers.
For its inaugural season in 2019, the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS) mobile market operated for 12 weeks, visiting 6 sites in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire, including 3 subsidized housing complexes. The new American farmers in ORIS’s incubator farming program earned $8,099 in sales through the mobile market in this first season. At the end of the season, ORIS staff conducted surveys of residents at mobile market sites to evaluate the market’s performance on multiple topics. These surveys also requested expressions of interest for serving as a Community Food Ambassador for the market in the 2020 season
For the 2020 season, ORIS expanded the Mobile Market to reach sites in Concord, NH in addition to Manchester, for a total of 20 subsidized, senior, and other housing complexes across the two cities. Leveraging site management recommendations, and self-nominations for 2019, ORIS recruited 12 potential ambassadors. Through outreach and a screening process, 7 Community Food Ambassadors were onboarded and served in this role through the season.
ORIS had planned robust outreach through Community Ambassadors, including (1) home visits to residents with brochures and recipe cards; (2) attendance at housing site events/meetings; (3) occasional tasting or other partner events during mobile market visits; and (4) assistance with sales and distribution at Ambassadors’ sites. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited these outreach opportunities. Ambassadors instead focused on putting up flyers in common areas and distributing brochures and coupons through contact-less means. Market sales also had to adopt COVID-19 safety protocols, which disallowed customers from handling produce, required masks, and enforced 6’ of distance between customers and staff.
Despite these significant obstacles and changes, the Community Ambassadors still made a positive impact on mobile market sales during the 2020 season. Data from sites that were active in 2019 and active with a Community Ambassador in 2020 show a universal increase in sales, though the size of the increase varies between 15-58% depending on the site. This is consistent across average total sales per site visit, average EBT sales, and average transactions per site visit.
Overall, the mobile market visited 14 more sites than 2019, operating over 20 weeks from June-October. Total sales increased 103%, and EBT sales increased 321%. 5 of the sites hosting Community Ambassadors ranked in the top 10 sites for total sales, and 4 of these sites were among the highest for EBT sales as well.
The project successfully utilized the Farmer’s Register point of sale system, but had additional findings relevant to the implementation of this technology. Most of the Community Ambassadors recruited for the Mobile Market were not comfortable with utilizing technology to conduct pre-sales and/or communicate with residents. The main factors contributing to the discomfort with technology were age and language skills. The project found that Ambassadors were quite successful in their roles with “low tech” outreach.
While the 2020 Mobile Market season was anomalous due to the myriad changes to the plan for outreach and implementation, ORIS saw meaningful growth in sales and number of transactions at both its repeat sites and overall. ORIS plans to continue to utilize the Community Ambassador program for the 2021 season and beyond. It will further evaluate the impact of Ambassadors on residents’ participation and consumption decisions as the Market is able to operate in more normalized conditions and with more intensive outreach.
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/
In 2019, ORIS launched and ran its mobile market for 12 weeks and visited 6 sites in the city of Manchester, NH. 3 of those sites were subsidized housing complexes. This year, we expanded into the city of Concord, NH and ran the market for 20 weeks, visiting a total of 20 different site locations over the season. We conducted residential surveys at the end of this inaugural season. At the end of the surveys, we asked customers who frequented the market 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. While identifying new sites for the 2020 season, ORIS asked property managers to identify residents that would make ideal Ambassador candidates. ORIS also discussed various building meetings, free meals, commodity food distributions, coffee chats, educational presentations, and other site specific events with property managers to assess which events ORIS could join in order to promote and increase public awareness of the mobile market.
Based on the survey results of a 2019 customer survey, and an evaluation completed by Nada Haddad at UNH Cooperative Extension (Mobile markets. ORIS UNH Extension 2019 Manchester), we made adjustments to our program to better meet the needs of our customers for the 2020 season. This included changes such as lowering our prices, and changing our site visit frequency from weekly to bi-weekly, for example. From the surveys, as well as from initial site visits and recommendations from site management, we identified 12 potential Ambassadors. After several weeks of outreach, a final 7 Ambassadors were onboarded and continued to work with us throughout the season. Some potential ambassadors were ruled out because we were not able to attend their site this year, or because we were not able to establish consistent communication with them to be able to counsel them through the onboarding process and support their attendance at markets. Sites varied in the level of engagement and involvement of management, so we prioritized creating Ambassador roles at sites with minimal or no management involvement in market promotion. We developed a training packet, info sheet, and other go-to materials (i.e. recipe cards and nutrition information) for the Ambassadors to learn about the role and conduct outreach at their site.
As can be expected, our season was greatly impacted by COVID-19. We had planned to hold ambassador training in-person and outreach was planned to be held at gatherings at various building meetings, resident organizations, and other site-specific events. We are finalizing the training packet, info sheet, and other go-to materials (i.e. recipe cards and nutrition information) for the Ambassadors. The majority of the participating Ambassadors are seniors, and several of them have health conditions that placed them amongst the most vulnerable populations for exposure to the virus. There were several ongoing reported and rumored COVID-19 outbreaks at many of our sites, including three sites with Ambassadors, and in-person gatherings were prohibited at any of our sites by property management this season. Unfortunately, this meant that the training for Ambassadors was held over the phone, because in-person visits and technologically advanced video conferencing were not safe, not appropriate, or both. We checked in regularly with Ambassadors by phone about how their role was working, how the market visits were going, and if they had any ideas, needs or reflections on how to improve attendance. It is regretful that we could not study the impact of this program under the best of conditions to judge its effectiveness, but we did the best we could with the circumstances.
Despite coronavirus setbacks, the Ambassadors came up with effective ideas of how to promote the market at their particular site. We offered materials such as flyers, yard signs, door hangers, coupons, recipes, raffles, and phone trees, and they in turn told us what they thought would work best for their neighbors and the dynamics at their sites. Some Ambassadors loved crafting and made their own signage, or little handmade items to give to shoppers, like watermelon themed fans on hot days. Others already had their own phone tree, and some made note cards to give out to shoppers telling them when the next market would be. One Ambassador suggested that we use raffles to promote market attendance, which worked very well. We had one raffle a month for $10 of produce at each of the sites with Ambassadors. Unfortunately we were unable to implement several of their ideas around prepared samples, smoothies, etc. due to safety concerns.
Overall, a tailored and individualized approach instead of sweeping Ambassador parameters allowed them to be creative and serve the needs of their community. Ambassadors also played a critical role in supporting our staff in enforcing new safety protocols to make the mobile market shopping experience safe during the pandemic – such as encouraging mask wearing, social distancing, and not touching the produce.
Over the early winter months, we were able to work with two Keene State College Dietetic Interns who assembled a great nutrition curriculum and recipe catalog for us to use on the mobile market. Many of the promotions we anticipated holding around the Ambassador program (free samples, presentations and demos from the Interns, and Nutrition Connections’ programming) were deemed unsafe at farmers markets and by proxy mobile markets for this season, and the internship program was discontinued in March. However, we did inform Ambassadors about special giveaways and discounts on a weekly basis so that they could spread the word about what special fruit or discounts we might be having at that week’s visit. For example, we would call an Ambassador the day before or the morning of their visit to both remind them we were coming, as well as get them excited about the first fresh local strawberries of the season, first tomatoes, etc. that they could then promote to their neighbors.
We did purchase, set up, and utilize the app Farmer’s Register on an iPad for calculating and tracking our sales. Based on information provided by the company, our expectation was that Farmer’s Register would become an all-inclusive Point of Sale system, but for this year at least they have not yet finished developing the capability to accept payment. So we used Farmer’s Register to calculate and track sales and apply matching programs and discounts, as well as separate card reader machines to process payments via Credit, Debit, or EBT. This meant that the annual fee was lower than expected, and there were no card processing fees associated with using the app. Because it was not an all-encompassing system, we could not use the system with Ambassadors to organize pre-purchases with customers as planned. While Farmer’s Register was very helpful in some ways, it was also limited in a few ways as well. The initial setup and training was fairly well facilitated by Farmer’s Register staff, but subsequent support was difficult and required consistent follow up. We assume that some of this was the result of workflow disruptions due to COVID. Farmer’s Register’s strengths were in data collection on items sold, totaling up sales, and tracking data across multiple locations in one day, something that we had struggled with using just Square reader software 2019. However we found it very difficult to customize, apply, and track discounts, and to track inventory and margins. The difficulty with inventory management was mostly due to the complexity of our programming and the fact that our mobile market shares procurement with our CSA as the two programs are very intertwined. We ended up not using the app for inventory management, because it was not practical or accurate. However we will mostly likely use the app in general for our program again in 2021.
Through the mobile market program this year, we established a rigorous schedule of eight to ten stops per week, with 20 sites over a 20 week period. We completed a total of 177 site visits for the 2020 season, and conducted over $16,000 in sales, which was double our sales from 2019. We were also able to both train 14 beginner new American farmers in farmer’s market skills, as well as increase 23 new American farmers’ participation in selling to the mobile market. We sourced $15,041 (an 85% increase from $8,099 in 2019) worth of vegetables and fruit from new American farmers in our training programming.
Through this study we measured participation by looking at transactions and sales at sites with Community Food Ambassadors. We compared these numbers to sales from last year at repeat sites without Ambassadors, and to the sales at other sites as a whole. We were particularly hoping to increase EBT/SNAP sales, so we measured and compared those as well. Obviously the program was heavily impacted by COVID-19, so things may have been different in any other given year.
We also measured procurement from Fresh Start Farms new American farmers in dollars, to see a difference from last year’s sourcing and how it impacts farmers in our program in terms of wholesale sales through our outlet.
We observed the programmatic impact of using a new technology, Farmer’s Register, to facilitate and track sales.
Impact on mobile market sales:
Because we changed our schedule from weekly to bi-weekly site visits, the impact of our Ambassadors on our sales is best depicted through average site visit sales and transactions.
Here is a comparison specifically from the two sites we visited last year versus this year with Ambassadors:
Average site visit sales 2019: $66.75
Average site visit sales 2020: $105.51
% increase: 58%
Average estimated site visit EBT sales 2019: $27.78
Average site visit EBT sales 2020: $51.27
% increase: 88%
Average transactions per site visit 2019: 7
Average transactions per site visit 2020: 11
% increase: 57%
Average site visit sales 2019: $78.00
Average site visit sales 2020: $89.49
% increase: 15%
Average estimated site visit EBT sales 2019: $27.78
Average site visit EBT sales 2020: $41.13
% increase: 48%
Average transactions per site visit 2019: 8
Average transactions per site visit 2020: 9.8
% increase: 23%
Comparison from total SNAP/EBT sales per site visit this year versus last year (including the 7 sites with Ambassadors, 13 sites without Ambassadors; overall increase of 14 sites from 2019)
Total Sales 2019: $7,907.00
Total Sales 2020: $16,025.00
% increase: 103%
Total EBT sales 2019: $1,000
Total EBT sales 2020: $4,207
% increase: 321%
Total % EBT usage by market 2019: 13%
Total % EBT usage by market 2020: 29%
% increase: 123%
Top Markets Sales: 5 of our 7 sites with Ambassadors were in our top 10 sites for sales in 2020. One of the two sites not in the top 10 sales sites started very late due to extended COVID-19 outbreaks.
Top Markets with EBT % usage: 4 of our 7 Ambassador sites were among the highest EBT usage percentage among all of our markets. One of the three sites not in the top 10 sales sites started very late due to extended COVID-19 outbreak.
22% of our survey respondents reported that Ambassadors told them about the market. Another 55% learned about the Mobile Market from posters or flyers, and 18% from yard signs. All of these were primarily distributed by Ambassadors at the sites that had them.
With the help of our 7 Ambassadors, we are proud of the progress the market made this year. This year we were able to both train 14 beginner new American farmers in farmer’s market skills, as well as increase 23 new American farmers’ participation in selling to the mobile market. We sourced $15,041 (an 85% increase from $8,099 in 2019) worth of vegetables and fruit from new American farmers in our training programming, and conducted $16,025 in total sales. While our numbers are not what we projected in the proposal, we are still happy to have doubled our sales, tripling our EBT participation, as well as increasing our procurement from new American farmers by 85% during such a challenging year. Because our average sale at our sites is around $7.50, we have to hit very large customer numbers to show significant sales figures. In the future, we hope to add more valuable products to our inventory, as well as reaching wider audiences at places such as the YMCA and health centers, which were in progress but had to be cancelled for this year due to the virus.
We also pivoted one of our sites with an Ambassador to be focused on donations only, because of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the immigrant community that it served. We were able to donate 7,879 lbs of culturally appropriate food to some of our area’s most vulnerable populations, an increase from 1,444 lbs in 2019. This was done with additional aid funding from Harvard Pilgrim Foundation and New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation. Because of the unique needs of individuals this year, we believe it is important to note that dollar sales alone do not measure our impact in the community.
We were not able to implement focus groups with the Extension Specialist due to restrictions and safety concerns due to COVID-19. Many of our Ambassadors lack access to adequate transportation, so arranging an offsite gathering was also not conducive. Most Ambassadors are also not comfortable with technology beyond phone calls.
One of our Ambassadors, Tina, was interviewed by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation for an article about our programming (full article available at https://www.nhcf.org/what-were-up-to/fresh-start-farms-helping-to-feed-our-communities/):
“The mobile market visits Tina’s building in Manchester every other week, where many elders and people with disabilities live. Tina is immune-compromised and uses an electric wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, so going to grocery stores is challenging in normal times — and those challenges are exacerbated during a pandemic.
“I can’t get to the store regularly,” Tina said. “I can get the vegetables and things that I need when they come here, and I know that they are fresh and I know that they haven’t been shipped from wherever.”
Through this project we sought to increase food access as well as increase local food procurement through our mobile market program. We implemented the Community Food Ambassador program in the 2020 market season, and gathered data throughout the year.
We worked with 7 Ambassadors at 7 sites. Two sites were repeat sites from last year, and five were new sites. We made significant efforts to work with additional Ambassadors throughout the season, and some of the 7 were onboarded midway through. But other interested potential Ambassadors were either too difficult to reach consistently or did not come to markets after expressing initial interest. We also trained 14 beginner new American farmers in farmers’ market skills, and increased 23 new American farmers’ sales through the mobile market sales channel.
We can show data that with the addition of Community Food Ambassadors, the sales, EBT use, and average number of transactions increased per site visit at the residential sites which were repeated from 2019 to 2020. We can also show that our total market sales of farmers’ produce doubled from 2019 to 2020, as well as EBT sales tripling. The percentage of our sales that was made up by EBT also doubled since last year.
These results were very positive, and we plan to include Ambassadors in our programming in the future.
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 were identified and on-boarded, they received further training and professional and leadership development opportunities to ensure they could 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 developed a training packet, info sheet, and other materials (i.e. recipe cards) for the Ambassadors.
We developed 2020 consumer outreach/educational materials, which educated 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.
1 Ambassador Program Training Packet
2 Mobile Market About
3 SNAP Match Flyer
4 Example Site Door Hanger Marketing
5 Example Flyer – Spanish
6 Example Recipe Card
7 Ambassador Thanks
8 Phone Tree Materials
In 2020, as discussed in the prior section, onboarding and outreach were greatly impacted by the pandemic. The majority of training was conducted by phone and follow up calls throughout the season. Ambassadors and/or their site management were provided with several printed materials to promote the market throughout the season.
The Mobile Market was also a learning vehicle for our incubator farmers who learned about sales via EBT/SNAP benefits, and the Granite State Market Match program, which helps subsidize purchase of fresh produce for low-income customers. This demonstrated the viability of increasing sales by targeting low-income audiences in addition to middle- and high-income audiences that the incubator farmers are most familiar with through our traditional CSA market.
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.
In 2020, we were able to both train 14 beginner new American farmers in farmer’s market (including the mobile market) skills, as well as increase 23 new American farmers’ understanding of SNAP/EBT sales potential and participation in selling to the mobile market. Because of expected sales, the farmers planted more crops this year to be able to meet the increased demand. We sourced $15,041 (an 85% increase from $8,099 in 2019) worth of vegetables and fruit from new American farmers in our training programming.
We were also able to provide an outlet for cultural crops from our farmers’ countries of origin, which can sometimes be difficult to sell to wider markets. Because of our emergency relief funding, we were able to source their cultural crops at a good price and give it away to the communities in need that appreciated those specific crops.
With the help of our 7 Ambassadors, we are proud of the progress the market made this year. This year we were able to both train 14 beginner new American farmers in farmer’s market skills, as well as increase 23 new American farmers’ participation in selling to the mobile market. We sourced $15,041 (an 85% increase from $8,099 in 2019) worth of vegetables and fruit from new American farmers in our training programming. We discovered that our initial expectations for participating farmer revenue were much higher than could be achieved given the inherent barriers to this work, including: alignment of timing of market visits and resident schedules; timing of EBT/SNAP benefit distribution relative to market schedule; need to reduce the mark up margin on produce to make it financially accessible to residents; and the effects of weather (storms, extreme heat, wind, etc.).
The new grant funding received that is relative to this project supports an expansion of the Ambassador program, but also supports an overall expansion of ORIS food access initiatives, including opening a permanent retail location and a “Healthy Corners” initiative to bring fresh produce to local corner stores in areas lacking easy access to full-scale grocery stores.
It is unfortunate that the approach taken for this project had to be adapted significantly as a result of the pandemic. The planned approach, including in-person trainings and outreach events, is still assumed to be the most effective way to affect participation in a mobile farmers’ market and affect potential customers’ consumption decisions. Given the pandemic adaptations we still observed significant positive impact of the Ambassadors, but their ability to more effectively promote and encourage participation at the markets would have been much stronger during a more typical season.
We believe the approach that was executed was the best possible, given the need for last minute changes due to the pandemic. In addition to changing the training of Ambassadors and loss of dietician interns at market sites, the Mobile Market also implemented additional safety procedures for COVID-19. These required additional staff support, signage, and supplies to ensure a safe but effective market.
We will continue operating the Mobile Market in 2021 and beyond, and are hoping to be able to incorporate the additive activities that were initially planned for 2020 to see how much these activities accelerate residents’ use of the Mobile Market. Specifically, we would like to see the impact of pop-up cooking demonstrations, free samples, and in-person support for Ambassadors to further their impact on the participation in mobile markets at residential sites. Assisting the Ambassadors in promoting the market at their site events such as resident meetings, lunches, senior center events, etc is also expected to be very beneficial.
Finally, we plan to continue year-over-year analysis of the financials for the Mobile Market sales to identify the most successful way of delivering this important source of fresh, healthy foods to high-need communities while balancing the price to consumers with the revenue for participating farmers.