by Laura Rodley
WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS – The Hilltown Mobile Market was developed with key input from the Hilltown Food Council, an advisory group that meets monthly, made up of community partners and stakeholders. The market is staffed by Fletcher Schneeflock, a Cummington, MA, resident, with help from volunteer intern Natalie Greenbaum and other members of the Hilltown Food Council.
They provide produce from six local farms: Chesterfield’s Crabapple Farm, Westhampton’s Intervale Farm, Conway’s Hart Farm, Charlemont’s Good Bunch Farm and Worthington’s Sawyer Farm and Four Corners Farm. They’ve made these farms’ produce available at their weekly pop-up markets in the towns of Cummington, Huntington, Worthington and Blandford from July to October. In addition, they offer blueberries from Berniche Farm in Chesterfield, maple syrup from Hickory Hill Farm in Worthington and apples from Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield.
They buy sweet corn and other produce from Marty’s Local, a local farm distributor based in Pittsfield. “It’s easy to grow sweet corn in the valley, harder in the hilltowns,” said Seva Water, outreach coordinator at Hilltown Community Development Corporation and one of the “three musketeers” who helps organize the mobile market for Chesterfield-based Hilltown CDC. The other two are Kate Bavelock, director of community programs, and Caitlin Marquis, coordinator at Northampton’s Healthy Hampshire.
In mid-August, the mobile market was in its third week of distribution, providing food for 80 people who bought farm shares at the beginning of the season that quickly sold out, on a sliding scale of $5 – $20 per week. It is a produce-only market, which makes it easier for people paying with WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition (FMNP) coupons, and simplifies storage and transport, according to Water. They accept cash, credit, SNAP, WIC and Senior FMNP coupons. Besides the people who pick up their shares, they sell produce to people who stop by and pay “a la carte.” The produce is packaged to go from the van to help minimize contact. They ask that everyone wears a mask and follows six-foot social distancing requirements.
“Farmers markets have been hard to sustain in the hilltowns. Getting nonprofits involved has allowed farmers to offer their produce to hilltowners without spending too much time at a slow farmers market,” said Water. The mobile market model also gives more people the opportunity to shop locally and use their benefits.
The market is supported by three nonprofits: the Hilltown CDC, Healthy Hampshire and the Hilltown Community Health Center. They have a partnership with Northampton’s Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and seed money from State Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, part of the $3 million awarded in 2019 for underserved communities through a Social Determinants of Health grant.
“The total award from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office was a two-year, $149,818 grant, of which $113,788 has gone to supporting the Hilltown Mobile Market. The rest goes to supporting work on accessible walking routes in hilltown communities. In its second year, the market has also benefited from a $100,000 Healthy Living Accelerator Grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield, $38,943 of which has gone to supporting the Hilltown Mobile Market, and the remainder of which has gone to supporting a mobile market pilot in another community,” said Marquis.
Last year, in its pilot year, the Hilltown Mobile Market traveled to only Worthington and Huntington, with the produce transported in a privately-owned vehicle. This year, through the combined monies, they were able to purchase a utility van, doubling their capacity for filling farm shares and allowing them to bring food to the two other towns as well.
“It’s an amazing collaboration among our organizers to get local food to people who want it,” said Water. “We cover a wide area where the population is widely spread out. We make quick stops – we are there only an hour and a half. We don’t sit and wait for hours,” which is the time allotment required at most farmers market.
For more information, access hilltownmobilemarket.info.