More often than not, affordable, freshly grown food is hard to come by, especially food grown right here in Lowell. When Mill City Grows co-founders, Francey and Lydia were starting out, they had this problem in mind, with a goal to make fresh food accessible throughout the city. What better way to do that than with a market on wheels, that travels to a different neighborhood each day of the week?
This is how our Mobile Market got started in 2013, with a pilot season using the COOL Bus. In 2014, with the support of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, we were able to acquire and retrofit a truck and trailer, which hit the road making six weekly stops from June – October.
Now in 2015 we are expanding even more thanks to grants from The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program. This incredible support has allowed us to hire a Mobile Market Manager and seasonal staff on our market crew, which means we can be on the road 5 days a week, hitting 8 stops regularly! Harvard Pilgrim Foundation’s multi-year grant also means that we can expand our Mobile Market schedule and reach into the many neighborhoods of Lowell. This all translated into more access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables for the city’s low-income neighborhoods.
“The Mobile Market was created due to increasing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods that lack access to affordable produce,” said Lydia at this year’s Mobile Market ribbon cutting ceremony. “We are very grateful to Harvard Pilgrim for enabling us to expand our food access points for consumers and distribution points for our urban farms and other local food producers and farmers, and invest in infrastructure that will allow us to carry a wider variety of produce that is appealing to a culturally diverse group.”
Our markets are set up to make food shopping as convenient as possible, stopping at businesses and organizations where residents already frequent including health centers and hospitals, and Lowell’s commuter rail station. We also accept SNAP/EBT benefits, as well as WIC and Senior Farmers Market Coupons at all market locations, and our Market Bucks program enables us to provide up to 50% matching funds to residents who receive benefits.
With a growing customer base and support from Harvard Pilgrim and the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program, this year we will expand the impact of our Mobile Market with the addition of a few new market features. Grant funding will allow us to plan and deliver 10 cooking and nutrition based demos, and translate more than 20 recipes into multiple languages, teaching customers how to cook vegetables that they may not be familiar with. We will also partner with local farmers, helping them gain exposure to a Lowell customer base, and bringing more fresh produce to our city.
When asked what makes the MCG Mobile Market special and why it matters, Mobile Market manager, 4 Nichols said, “The modern food system has it all backwards. Everything seems to come from far, far away and has a list of ingredients that twists the tongue. Why not just start here, where we live, for the first rung of our food-ladder. Get to know who grows your food, know where it comes from, and, most importantly, know what it really is that you are ingesting. It is a lifestyle change that might just change your life!”
Here’s where our Mobile Market comes into play. Wednesday through Sunday come pick up your favorite freshly grown veggies at the following locations:
We are thrilled to continue expanding the reach of our Mobile Market and for our partnership with the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation allowing Lowell to become a city where good, healthy food is available to everyone!