This article originally appeared in the September 2020 edition of Senior Scope. Article and photos by Seth Thomas.
Coastline’s Foster Grandparent Program volunteers typically meet throughout the summer, but this year the group wasn’t able to gather together on account of the ongoing pandemic. Now, with local school districts leaning toward an online reopening at the start of the upcoming academic year, it appears that opportunities for the grandparents to meet may remain sparse.
But on Aug. 14, the volunteers were able to reconnect at the Wamsutta Club, which made its parking lot available for the group to meet outdoors in a space large enough to allow social distancing. The Foster Grandparents weren’t the only ones to regroup following a lengthy quarantine. Coastal Foodshed’s Mobile Farm Stand made its return as well.
The mobile farm stand, now in its third year, had to radically reinvent itself during the COVID era. Last year, the traveling shop made regular weekly stops throughout New Bedford and at a variety of events. When the farmers market closed in March, so, too, did operations at the farm stand. To ensure the project continued serving customers, the farm stand shifted to online sales.
In just two weeks, the market had completely reestablished itself on WhatsGood, an online farmers market platform, which is available as a website and a smartphone app. The shopping experience is similar to buying groceries online. Before adding an item to your digital shopping cart, the website will display the farm and location from where the item was sourced.
Stephanie Perks, the director of Coastal Foodshed, said that when the virtual market initially opened this spring, it was bombarded with customers.
The opening of the virtual market happened at time when public knowledge about COVID-19 was rapidly evolving and stepping foot inside a grocery store felt especially perilous. The new online market, however, was a place to shop safety, and it made door deliveries. (Plus, unlike the larger chain grocery stores, the virtual farm stand managed to keep flour, a COVID-era rarity, in stock.)
Customers can place an online order between 8 a.m. on Saturdays and 11 p.m. on Mondays, and the orders are delivered by Wednesday evenings. From 2 to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, customers can pick up their order from Coastal Foodshed’s new location at 38 Blackmer St. in New Bedford.
Earlier this year, on account of the pandemic, Massachusetts enabled customers to use SNAP/EBT cards for online purchases at Walmart and Amazon. While smaller markets were not included in this new rule, Coastal Foodshed enables customers to order online and then pay using SNAP/EDT cards when they pick up an order at their office on Wednesdays.
Customers may also take advantage of the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which provides SNAP users with extra benefits when purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. HIP can only be used at farmers markets, farm stands and CSAs.
The mobile farm stand aggregates products – including produce, meat, maple syrup and honey – from farms throughout the region. Beyond its own virtual market, Coastal Foodshed launched a 12-week program during the pandemic aimed at keeping farmers’ businesses afloat. The Southcoast Farmer to Family Relief Program, which was funded as part of the SouthCoast Community Foundation’s COVID relief effort, helped bring local food into food pantries.
“The goal was to help people who needed it, but also to help farmers who had lost markets,” said Dan King, who manages the mobile farm stand and virtual market. “A lot of farms lost direct-to-restaurant sales. The amount of farms that we work with now is greater than it was because their regular channels dwindled.”
With numerous agencies now offering free produce boxes as part of a wide-ranging COVID-relief effort, Coastal Foodshed is looking to identify locations where food remains hard to access.
“There are a lot of resources out there right now for food, so we have to go places where people are not getting food,” said Perks, adding that Coastal Foodshed intends to keep the virtual market operational beyond the COVID era.
In the interim, the group was happy to see the mobile farm stand make its return for the Foster Grandparents.
“This event was great, getting back in the swings of things and interacting with customers – even with strange mask guidance and blue tape on the ground,” said King. “It’s still nice to provide the service again.”
To order from the farm stand online, either download the WhatsGood smartphone app or visit sourcewhatsgood.com. Deliveries can be made to: New Bedford, Dartmouth, Acushnet, Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Rochester and Marion.
SNAP/EBT/HIP customers can make online orders, but will have to pick-up at 38 Blackmer St., New Bedford. Call for info: 508-259-2647.