Since 2012, New Haven’s Mobile Farm Market has brought fresh, local produce to parts of New Haven where it’s in short supply: senior centers, public housing projects, and neighborhoods where grocery stores are a long car or bus ride away. Last year, the market visited 24 sites, connecting at least 1,000 city residents with nearly $12,000 worth of produce — more than 75% purchased with benefits from food assistance programs like the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
From the start, Common Ground students have helped the mobile market run — working with staff from CitySeed, the lead partner on the Mobile Market, to sell fresh, local veggies from Common Ground and other local farms. This summer, Common Ground’s Mobile Market crew — led by Robert Adams (class of 2014), Keilly Salano (class of 2017), and Arianna Pina (class of 2017) — took on a new challenge. “We wanted the mobile market to have a more direct presence in neighborhoods,” explained Keilly. “We wanted to build a connection with people.”
With the goal of growing connections between the Market and residents in mind, Robert, Keilly, and Arianna ventured out into the surrounding neighborhoods to take on door-to-door outreach. Kerry Ellington, the crew’s director and a full-time teaching assistant at Common Ground, got them ready. “The crew pounded the pavement flyering and speaking with community members in West River, Newhallville, Brookside and Ashmun Street Park. I trained crew members in community organizing strategies including, campaign messaging, script development, goal setting and door knocking techniques. The crew actively applied their training during outreach. ”
The impact of their work? In four weeks, after knocking on 100 doors, talking to more than 50 people, and receiving 25 commitments to action, end of season reflections from Kerry and the mobile market crew paint a picture of their experience:
At the market …
At Bella Vista, there was a huge line — it was like a mob was coming through. They had senior farmer’s market coupons. When those ran out, the market slowed down. At George Street, there were people waiting for us when we arrived. When we went to Ashmun Street Park, there were always people having a cookout — so people would walk over and buy corn, and put it right on their grills. In Newhallvile, things started out slow — but when we did more outreach, things picked up.” – Keilly, Robert, and Arianna
In the surrounding neighborhoods …
I think I had an advantage by being bilingual. When we would go to these neighborhoods there would be Hispanic people who wouldn’t understand when Robert or Kerry spoke to them. So sometimes its an advantage to have someone speak two languages or maybe even three.” – Keilly
We were able to approach people from different angles. We had these little plums that were in season, and kids loved them. They’d buy some, bring them to their parents, and then convince them to come back and buy more. Little kids are really powerful in convincing parents to do things. – Arianna
This was an amazing year with Common Ground, being this kind of partner. Students are really powerful ambassadors for the market.” – Nicole Berube, CitySeed Executive Director.
From the crew members …
In the process of outreach and mobile market work I erased some stereotypes I had about communities. I learned that in some communities, people still do care and that some people aren’t afraid to keep living their lives such as being able to grow gardens in their backyard. Most of the areas that we outreached in have very large reputations of violence so for people to not be worried and be growing gardens sends a strong message.” – Robert
Outreach made me start from the very bottom to take me somewhere far out of my comfort zone. From the four weeks that we did outreach, I have gained more confidence in myself and I know can speak to all kinds of people that I don’t know about fresh produce and the issues going on in today’s modern food system. Learning about new neighborhoods also made me realize that all of us are trying to find a way to be more healthier. This summer has made me want to talk to my community about food issues. Through most of the year, I will be going to city hall as part of a CitySeed Internship and talking about food justice.” – Keilly
A skill that I improved on was being able to have a better conversation while thinking on my feet. Prior to this experience I was not used to answering questions and holding conversations I had not prepared for. Therefore doing outreach, being invited into someone’s home and not knowing what they’re going to ask then being able to answer and keep them interested was a hard task.” – Robert
My family constantly asked me, ‘where is the mobile market happening?’ I’d even find myself doing outreach on the city bus, talking up the mobile market to strangers.” – Arianna