Stonehill College Takes its Discount ‘Mobile Market’ to Brockton

August 24, 2016

Every other Wednesday this summer, Michelle David arrives before 8 a.m. at Stonehill College, where she will be a senior this fall. She spends the morning harvesting vegetables on the school’s 1 ½-acre farm. She packs the produce, and loads it into a van.

In the afternoon, she and a few others make the 15-minute drive into Brockton. They unpack their “Mobile Market” outside Brockton Neighborhood Health Center on Main Street, where they sell the produce at a discount -- 50 cents for a cucumber, $1.50 for a bunch of kale, $2 for a Chinese cabbage.

In parts of Brockton, vegetables like those are not widely available, even at more typical prices. Much of the city is a federally designated “food desert,” which is defined by the federal government’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative as a “low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.”

“It’s really shocking to see how much of an issue it is in Brockton,” said Beth Collins, who manages the food assistance program at My Brother’s Keeper, a nonprofit to which the farm at Stonehill regularly donates food.

“There’s lots of areas where, if you don’t have a car and you’re not on the bus line, you don’t have access to fresh foods and vegetables,” she said.

Those situations, Collins said, drive Brockton’s high rates of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes.

The Mobile Market is the brainchild of Bridget Meigs, who teaches in Stonehill’s environmental science and studies department and started the farm in 2011.

Having heard about similar projects across the country, Meigs launched a pilot program in fall 2015. It went well, and the farm received two $5,000 grants that allowed the market to open every Wednesday afternoon this summer. The grants were provided by Boston-based Project Bread, which works to reduce hunger, and the Vela Foundation, which focuses on nutrition and wellness in underserved communities in the region.

Five people -- two students and three Stonehill employees -- have staffed the market at various times throughout the summer. Angela Beyer, who worked at nearby Langwater Farm, was hired to manage the market.

Meigs said that at first the Mobile Market -- which starts at 3:30 at the health center and lasts about an hour and a half before it stops for a while in the parking lot of Trinity Baptist Church at 1367 Main St. -- wasn’t getting the foot traffic she had hoped for. Many customers were employees of the health center, not patients who may have less access to produce.

But the health center bought $1,100 worth of vouchers for the market to give to certain patients. Alexandra Avedisian, pictured below on the left, who coordinates the health center’s work with the market, estimates that roughly $400 worth of $10 vouchers have been given out so far to patients who are waiting for approval to receive food stamps, who are in the health center’s healthy-aging program, or who are in a chronic disease self-management class.

Michelle David said she noticed an influx of customers on the first day the vouchers were available for use.

“That was a really awesome moment, when we would have these women leave with arms full of produce,” she said.

Avedisian says Meigs and her team deserve a lot of credit for their work.

“Not only are they providing incredibly wonderful produce, not only are they bringing it into the heart of Brockton,” she said, “but it’s also incredibly well priced. With a $10 voucher, patients are able to get a pretty good amount of vegetables.”

The Mobile Market has also had an impact on the Stonehill students who have worked at it.

Melissa Mardo, who is on a paid internship at the market, said that in her previous work at the farm, where almost all of the harvested food is donated to local nonprofits, she hadn’t often been able to see the end result of her work.

“Now I can see those people that it’s going to,” Mardo said. “So it’s really come full circle for me.”

“Michelle and Melissa are at the cusp of deciding what they want to do in their next chapter,” Beyer said, noting that both students will be seniors this fall.

“I see a lot of passion from both of them, that they really want to take this food justice and make it a bigger part of their lives in some capacity,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful.”

To see a snapshot of the Mobile Market, visit here.