Written by: Leonard Parker | Solar News | 14th June
Anyone who has seen the classic film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” knows the momentous scene when Dick Van Dyke’s Caractacus Potts, eccentric inventor, finally rolls the shiny new car out of the barn after weeks of hammering, welding, and tinkering. The ORIS Mobile Food Market had a similarly grand reveal in ReVision Energy’s Brentwood warehouse this May. Though it doesn’t have wings, the Mobile Market does have a newly attached collection of solar panels and brings fresh foods to New Hampshire communities facing food insecurity.
A team of ReVision volunteers, headed by master electrician Chris Lee, spent hours securing four solar panels (REC 375 commercial 72-cell modules) to the roof of the trailer, and wiring them through the inverter to 4 lead-acid batteries that provide over 10 kWh of storage. The system will power 2 refrigerators and 1 freezer to store fresh food. While the ORIS Mobile Market is maybe not quite at Chitty’s level (we have not yet tested its ability to fly and/or boat), its ability to address New Hampshire’s food insecurity has drastically improved because of this work.
Last year, the Mobile Market, which is run by the Manchester-based Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS), drove weekly to Manchester and Concord, bringing fresh fruit and veggies to local residents who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access them. The produce, bought from local New Hampshire farms, is sold to residents through another ORIS program called Granite State Market Match (GSMM). This program doubles the value of EBT/Snap Credits when used on local produce, benefiting both the residents purchasing the produce and the local growers who sell their produce through the program.
The Mobile Market drives right up to where people live, increasing accessibility for people without transportation. This year, thanks to the solar-powered refrigeration, the Mobile Market is adding Nashua on to its route and broadening their offerings.
“I know our customers are going to be thrilled to have all these items available that we’ve never had before,” said ORIS program manager Laurel Witri, “they’re always asking us if we have cheese, and milk, and ice cream.” She explained that the Mobile Market providing fruits and veggies was great but, “it doesn’t necessarily save a trip to the grocery store if you can’t get everything.”
The Mobile Market and GSMM are just two of ORIS’s programs, which range from youth literacy to employment services, but they work in partnership with ORIS’s flagship program, Fresh Start Farms. Currently comprised of 23 farmers speaking 13 different languages, Fresh Start Farms is a collective of refugee and immigrant farmers who sell their produce in local farmers’ markets and CSAs.
The coordinator of Fresh Start, Jameson Small, has worked with ReVision Energy throughout the years on various projects. When the Mobile Market wanted to expand its offerings using solar power, he approached ReVision and Chris Lee took on the project.
“When the ORIS project concept was floated to me this past spring, I jumped right on it because of what they do for the world,” explained Chris. “Not only do they employ people who typically have a difficult time transitioning to living in this country, they also provide healthy food to places where people may struggle to find such nourishing options. Helping this project come to fruition was a small way I could help them make big improvements in many people’s lives.”
Other ReVision volunteers included solar installer Eric Zulaski, fleet manager Ken McMaster and his wife Laura, and warehouse assistant Josh Finnochio.
“I am very proud to have worked on the ORIS trailer these last several weekends,” said Chris. “It has proved to be a good challenge, and certainly worth the effort.”
The solar powered addition to the Mobile Market will benefit the program, its partners, and the communities it serves. The increased sustainability of the vehicle is a bonus that Laurel Witri knows the customers will appreciate. “This is a real response to what we’ve gotten from our customers,” she explains, “I know they’ll be excited to see the solar panels and it’s a really great thing to make our program more sustainable environmentally, as well as expanding the reach of our food access. We are so grateful to Chris and the team, and we’re just really excited to drive the solar panels around!”