Projects > Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: A Progress Report

Mill City Grows

Mobile markets bring fresh local food to city neighborhoods

In urban neighborhoods with limited food retailers and transportation, farmers and organizations are developing creative solutions to provide access to fresh, healthy, local food. In Lowell, Mill City Grows operates two mobile markets, selling the produce grown at their urban farms, along with produce, honey, and eggs from local farmers. The markets make ten stops throughout the city per week, June through October, and have two year-round locations.

Through the mobile markets, Mill City Grows is able to bring fresh local produce at an affordable price to families that may not have a grocery store in their neighborhood. It is particularly helpful for seniors, people with disabilities or who don’t drive, and families with small children. Customers appreciate the variety and quality of their fruits and vegetables. Many customers who emigrated from Cambodia can’t get enough of the garlic, saying that the type the organization grows is most like what they grew up eating.

The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) has made an enormous impact on the program. In previous years, the markets accepted SNAP, WIC and senior coupons, and offered a 50 percent discount; however, shoppers using those programs made only 9 percent of total purchases. Once HIP began in 2017, more than 50 percent of the purchases were made with benefit programs, and overall sales increased significantly.

“The mobile markets are a temporary fix to demonstrate that low-income families want healthy local food,” says Lydia Sisson, founding co-director of Mill City Grows. “We hope the mobile markets will be replaced by stores that offer more reliable fresh food access in the future.”

Food Access, Security, and Health - Recommendation 7.4: Support innovative retail outlet strategies that enhance access to healthy food for at-risk residents.