Fresh Start Farms: Rising to the challenges of growing a community around agriculture

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Patricia Islaw packs mushrooms in the new Food Hub for Fresh Start Farms Shroomshare customers. Photo/Kathy Staub

MANCHESTER, NH – Every morning since the beginning of June, farmers who are part of the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS) agriculture program have been bringing their produce to the new Fresh Start Farms Food Hub on Spruce Street to be washed and packed. The building, which was renovated by Neighborworks, provides a centralized location for the farmers to store and process their fruits and vegetables and will eventually house a year-round retail space.

Program manager Jameson Small says it has been a wild month. They moved into the facility about a week before the season started. The air conditioning in the packing area was just installed last week, but finishing up the retail area will have to wait until the fall.  Right now the emphasis is on getting their fresh produce out the door. Greenhouses allow farmers to get a jumpstart on the season and a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs are already being sold.

In the packing room, empty boxes have been assembled and stacked to the ceiling, waiting to be filled with produce for CSA customers.  Patricia Islaw is packing an assortment of mushrooms from Dunk’s mushroom farm for shareholders. Islaw is a rising sophomore at Memorial High School and is working at the Hub as part of ORIS’s summer youth program. Nearby, Chouaib Hannouch, an immigrant from Morocco, is packaging fresh snap peas. 

Valere Mangituka, who runs the ORIS youth program, comes by to check on Patricia before heading out to the fields in Dunbarton to water. Because of COVID-19 they had to curtail the youth program this year, so he helps out with the farming program when he can. 

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Boxes waiting to be filled with fresh produce for Fresh Start Farms CSA customers. Photo/Kathy Staub

The weather this year has been a challenge for the farmers. “The cold damp spring made it tough to get things in on time. Now the dry weather has weakened the plants,” says Small. Fortunately, they were able to purchase and install a drip irrigation system this year, which has helped.

They have been packing 140-150 boxes a week for their CSA orders, the Fresh Start Food Cart has also begun making stops in Manchester and Concord, and the farmers are selling at farmers’ markets around the state seven days a week.  Laurel Witri, who manages the Mobile Market Food Cart program, says that in the first three weeks of operation they have sold 700 pounds of produce and donated an additional 1,000 pounds.

Fresh Start provides experienced farmers with plots of land at their Stony Hill Farm property in Dunbarton and beginning farmers with plots on several leased parcels in Concord. In addition to the produce grown by their own farmers, Fresh Start receives additional fruits and vegetables from Brookdale Farms and the Three Rivers Farmers Alliance to ensure more variety. Partnerships with other farms have allowed Fresh Start to expand its offerings to include mushrooms, eggs, chicken, fruits, and maple syrup.

Currently, the Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for Summer is completely subscribed, but you can sign up for the online Farm Stand which allows you to buy one-time shares when extra produce is available. The basic farm share is $28 for a box of fresh, in-season produce. There are still farm shares available for the fall season. 

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Fresh Start Farms moved into their new Food Hub on Spruce Street in early June. Photo/Kathy Staub

You can also buy directly from the farmers. This year Intown Manchester didn’t have the capacity to run the traditional downtown farmers market, but they agreed to help with permitting and insurance if Fresh Start wanted to take it on. Every Thursday Fresh Start farmers, along with DJ’s Natural Honey, will be in Victory Park from 3 to 6 p.m. They also will be selling fresh produce from the Food Cart in the alley next to the Food Hub on Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m. A complete list of farmers markets where Fresh Start Farms sells their produce is available on their website.

Enabling New Americans to start and run their own small businesses as farmers is only one part of the mission of Fresh Start Farms. The organization is also committed to ensuring that people in low-income communities have access to affordable, nutritious, locally-grown food.

Fresh Start participates in the Granite State Market Match program for customers who pay for their purchases with SNAP/EBT. For every dollar they spend, Granite State Market Match will double their money with tokens to spend on fruits, vegetables, herbs, seeds or seedlings. Fresh Start also offers a 25 percent discount to people who live in the neighborhood around the Food Hub. 

Not everyone can make it to the farmers market, so last year Fresh Start developed a plan to bring the farmers market to the people. They received a grant from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation to buy and outfit a trailer as a Mobile Market. From June to October the Fresh Start Food Cart will travel to different areas of the city to provide access to fresh, locally grown produce at an affordable price. Everyone is welcome to buy from the Food Cart.

The complete schedule is below:

Fresh Start Market

Thursdays, 2 – 6 p.m.

150 Spruce St., Manchester, NH  

Elmwood Gardens

1st & 3rd Wednesdays, 1-2 p.m.

83 Trahan St., Manchester, NH 

O’Malley Apartments

2nd & 4th Wednesdays, 1-2 p.m.

269 Chestnut St., Manchester, NH  

Kelley Falls Apartments

1st & 3rd Fridays, 11 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.

315 Kimball St.,  Manchester, NH  

Straw Mansion Apartments

2nd & 4th Fridays, 11 a.m. -12:30 p.m.

15 Temple Ct., Manchester, NH  

Burns Apartments

1st & 3rd Fridays, 1 – 2:30 p.m.

55 S Main St., Manchester, NH  

Sweeney Apartments

2nd & 4th Fridays, 1-2:30 p.m.

750 S Porter St., Manchester, NH  

Silver Mill Apartments

Fridays, 3-5 p.m.

426 Somerville St., Manchester, NH  


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About this Author

Kathy Staub

Kathy Staub is a NH State Representative for Hillsborough District 25.