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NECC Farmers Market Fills a Growing Need During Pandemic

Submitted by on December 21, 2020 – 8:58 pm

Janel D’Agata Lynch (left in photo) and Courtney Morin (second from right) along with volunteers Stephanie Haskell and Zoey Lauria.

When the pandemic hit in March, Northern Essex suspended its free mobile farmers market for faculty, staff, and students, which is offered in partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank once a month during the academic year.

“We wanted to get it back up as quickly as possible because we knew food insecurity would increase with COVID-19,” said Janel D’Agata-Lynch, Northern Essex’s civic engagement, service-learning and community resources coordinator.

Over the summer, a plan was hatched to launch a socially-distanced farmers market in September. Individuals sign up in advance, receive a timed appointment, and drive on to campus and get their food without having to leave their vehicle.

D’Agata-Lynch estimates that an average of 50 to 60 cars visited each campus for each market and that from September through November about 250 distinct households and over 1,000 individuals were served.

One repeat—and very appreciative— customer is Tiffany Bell of Haverhill, a practical nursing student and the mother of six children ages 5 to 23.  “You have no idea how helpful this is,” said Bell. “I feel blessed.”

At the December market, Northern Essex volunteers, led by Courtney Morin, the college’s Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, who is overseeing the Haverhill market as well as food pantries on both campuses, unloaded carrots, cabbage, salad, mangos, onions, and sweet potato; packed a bag for each client; and loaded the produce into the cars.

Morin, who is also a Northern Essex Biology student, is passionate about food security. “It’s very difficult to be successful in class if you’re thinking about where your next meal is coming from.”

According to statistics shared by the Greater Boston Food Bank, 47% of community college students and 39% of 4-year university students were food insecure before the pandemic.

“It is reasonable to assume that those numbers are much worse now,” said Christina Peretti, Greater Boston Food Bank’s assistant director of programs and community capacity. “We supply our partners and their clients with nutritious food because there are negative health consequences to hunger. Fresh fruit and vegetables are often some of the most expensive items to purchase in the grocery store.”

Northern Essex’s Farmers Market will start back up in January and run monthly on the 4th Tuesday of each month. To learn more, contact D’Agata-Lynch at

The college also offers food pantries and clothes closets on each of its campuses.

For more information, contact

Northern Essex Community College has campuses in both Haverhill and Lawrence. It offers approximately 60 associate degree and certificate programs as well as hundreds of noncredit courses designed for personal enrichment and career growth.  Each year, 6,000 students are enrolled in credit associate degree and certificate programs on the Haverhill and Lawrence campuses; and another 2,000 take noncredit workforce development and community education classes on campus, and at businesses and community sites across the Merrimack Valley.  For more information, visit the website at or call 978-556-3700.