Bringing Food From Trustees Farms to People in Need

Walking  the rows of squash, lettuce, and tomatoes growing at Powisset Farm, you might be surprised to see vegetables like Jamaican callaloo, Chinese broccoli, and okra sprouting from the soil.  

Those are grown based on demand from customers and are among the best-sellers at our Mobile Farmers Market, a Trustees program that brings high-quality, affordable, and culturally relevant food to underserved communities in Greater Boston.   

“It’s about empowerment. It’s a food access program, but we want to make it more directed by the customers and make them more involved and give them a sense of ownership”, said Phil Messier, who runs the Mobile Farmers Market at The Trustees.   

Created in 2017, the Market travels five days a week to different inner-city neighborhoods selling fresh, healthy produce grown by the Trustees at Appleton, Chestnut Hill, or Powisset farms.   

All the produce is sold at reduced rates, as the program is aimed at individuals and families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits. Through a state program called the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), people are reimbursed between $40 and $80 for using their SNAP benefits to buy from local farmers markets like us.   

This gives our customers more bang for their buck in an inclusive environment where they can pick and choose their food from a selection of fruits and vegetables they like to cook with. The Market travels to neighborhoods with many different immigrant populations, who have unique, but sometimes overlapping, cooking traditions.  

“One thing we’ve started this year is sharing recipes, since there is a wide knowledge base of cooking among the people who go to our markets,” Phil said. “It’s really cool because the recipes reflect our customers’ backgrounds and heritage in a really special way. They combine traditions from the other side of the world with food grown at The Trustees.”  

The program grew in popularity and sales each of its first few years, running annually from June to the following March. In March 2020, just before the new market season was about to begin, everything changed.  

“Our partners who run the public housing communities we go to were getting worried [about COVID-19]. A lot of the residents were scared to go outside,” Phil said. “It was clear that the virus was hitting people in public housing communities really hard.”   

As the pandemic caused greater economic inequality and put more strain on people already struggling to afford food, The Trustees completely changed how the Mobile Farmers Market worked—and we served more communities than ever before. Instead of running markets in different neighborhoods, our staff and volunteers packed up hundreds of bags of food and delivered them directly to the homes of customers who signed up for this new style of program.    

In 2020 we served people in North Cambridge, Somerville, Dorchester, Roxbury Crossing, Jackson Square, the South End, Chinatown, South Boston, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, and Roslindale, some of which were new for our program. From mid-June 2020 through March 2021, we supplied 425  households with fresh, local produce, benefitting approximately 700 individuals. 

This year, the program has transitioned back to open-air markets, where customers can pick and choose their food, but it is only open to those who sign up to participate using their SNAP and HIP benefits. Phil said he hopes to secure enough financial support to grow the Mobile Farmers Market in the future, both by reaching more people and by providing more food. 

“I hope someday we can increase the size of the shares people are getting, so they could not just rely on the food they’re getting from us for something special, but really come to see our program as a big part of the food they’re bringing into their household every month,” he said.  

The fresh, healthy food grown at our farms offers people a direct connection to the land The Trustees has worked for 130 years to preserve. At the heart of our mission lies the belief that everyone should have access to that food—and the land on which it grows—to nourish the body and spirit.

To learn how you can give a gift to support the Mobile Farmers Market as a member of the Founders Circle, reach out to your relationship manager or email to find out more.