Local food boom helps immigrant-led Fresh Start Farm

  • Habiba Hassan (left) and her mother, Hajiya, till the soil inside the green house at Fresh Start Farm in Dunbarton on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Habiba Hassan (right) and her mother, Hajiya, lay down a mat before they plant inside the green house at Fresh Start Farm off of Route 13 in Dunbarton on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Godance Ndabumvirubusa, the leader of the Umoja Farmers in Concord, prepping her plot at the St. Paul's School, May 2020. ORISCourtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/21/2020 2:28:41 PM

Food from New Hampshire farms, including Fresh Start Farm in Dunbarton, may join milk from Contoocook Creamery in packages for needy folks under a federal program at a time when the farm has seen interest in its CSA soaring.

“Last year we did a little over 100,000 (orders) with our CSA. We have grown almost three times in the last few months. We’re really ramping up for that,” said Jameson Small, the program manager Fresh Start Farms, which works with refugees to grown and sell food. “We hoped to have 65 members by May 31 – and we have 200 members now.”

Small attributed the boom, which has been reported at many farm stands and other local-food outlets, to concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People want safe food,” he said.

It helps that the farm had set up an online ordering system last year after seeing how food-delivery businesses like Amazon Fresh and Blue Apron were succeeding. “We already had the infrastructure in place,” Small said.

Fresh Start Farm is owned by Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, which helps new Americans and immigrants adjust and succeed, partly by giving them work growing food on the 57-acre farm that it bought in 2016. The group also leases other plots around the region for growing food including land at St. Paul’s School in Concord.

This year the organization acted as a sort of gathering point for some New Hampshire farms and food producers to be part of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program.

“We wanted to be strategic about getting other partners involved to make the application more robust,” said Small.

In the first round its application received $3,075, being used to buy milk from Contoocook Creamery, which is providing 1,200 half-gallons a week for the New Hampshire Food Bank.

The non-profit will learn by June 1 if it was accepted for the next round, which will involve produce from a variety of farms, including its own. If approved, produce will be taken to Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success’ facility on Spruce Street in Manchester, which acts as a food hub. There it will be washed, prepared and put into prepacked boxes ready to go to various outlets.

If all the grant applications are approved, each week the organization will provide 60 boxes to the New Hampshire Food Bank, 30 boxes to Neighborworks of Southern New Hampshire’s affordable housing sites, 30 boxes to Granite State Organizing Project and 60 to its own Healthy Family Program.

“It will be a combination of fruit and vegetables. The only (USDA) requirement is that it’s domestically grown. Our goal is to provide as much stuff as we can, but probably likely sometimes we’ll source elsewhere, such as Maine potatoes,” Small said.

“Some growers are planting in anticipation of being able to fill these orders, so we’re really hopeful we’ll get (the grant),” said  Small. “You can’t produce (food) on a 30-day notice.”

Among the participating farms and groups is Autum View in Pittsfield, the Kearsarge Food Hub, Brookdale Fruit Farm in  Hollis and the Three Rivers Farmers Alliance on the Seacoast.

“It took a whole bunch of hands to make this happen,” Small said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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