Refugee-farmers offer a moveable feast in Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader
July 23. 2013 9:31PM
Workers for the The Common Earth Farms farm stand sell fresh vegetables at Sweeney Park in Manchester on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — While it's not exactly an ice cream truck, a group of local farmers has opened a mobile market, which sets up and operates a small farm stand twice weekly at West Side parks.

Common Earth Farms is marketing the food that a handful of refugee-farmers grow on a two-acre plot in Bedford. The food is sold Monday afternoons at Sweeney Park and Wednesday afternoons at Wolfe Park.

On Monday, the farmers set up a single stand underneath a canopy beside Ferry Street, within feet of St. Raphael Church. Food was placed in wooden containers — lush greens and summer squash, sweet-smelling onions and first-of-the-season eggplants.

"I really love fresh fruits and vegetables," said Dubuque Street resident Tara Mishra after spending about $8 on a bag full of produce.

The Common Earth Farms was launched by International Institute of New Hampshire, a Boston-based organization that helps to establish refugees in the state. About four refugees work full-time on the farm.

Many of the farmers are older refugees who have struggled with English and found it difficult to adapt to their new country.

"I can't understand English, so I can't get a job," said Khada Niroula, 51, a refugee from Bhutan. He said the food appears to grow faster in New Hampshire than his native country.

This is the third year of existence for Common Earth Farm. The farm got a boost this year when the Citizens Bank Foundation provided a $30,000 grant, which allowed the farm to purchase a 2010 Ford cargo van.As part of the grant, Citizens told Common Earth to focus on the West Side, where residents have few opportunities to purchase fresh produce, the bank said."

By partnering with nonprofit organizations, we aim to make targeted neighborhoods more stable, healthy and livable," said Joe Carelli, president of Citizens Bank in New Hampshire.

"The mobile food market will offer access to healthy and affordable foods while also providing business training for refugee farmers," he said.

Any customer who uses EBT food stamps to purchase produce will receive a voucher that equals the amount of their purchase, in effect doubling their purchasing power.

Marie Nduwimama, 51, a refugee from Burundi, said she works about eight hours a day at the Bedford location on Jenkins Road. The farm doesn't use pesticides, and its only fertilizer is from fish products.

Last year, Common Earth sold about $7,000 worth of produce, said Lianna French, market manager of the Common Earth. However, a permanent farm stand in Bedford is expected to increase the revenue figure this year.

And with the mobile market, Common Earth is hoping to increase its visibility.

Currently, about 75 percent of customers are refugees.

"We're still in transition," French said. "We're hoping once it's up and running it will create more of a customer base."

The mobile market is expected to operate into October.

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