Farm carts and small neighborhood grocery stores once brought produce into densely populated areas. Now liquor and convenience stores are the norm, carrying little more than highly processed snack foods and sugary drinks.
The result is a growing number of food deserts, or low-income areas located more than a mile away from the nearest grocery store, leaving residents with little or no fresh and healthy food options. Several communities across the US are tackling this issue by creating mobile markets.
Mobile markets are typically renovated trucks or trailers that carry fresh and healthy foods into urban communities. A mobile market may visit a neighborhood once a week or a few times a month on a set schedule. Many mobile markets accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, payments or have subsidies that make the food affordable to people with little or no income.
The People’s Grocery created the first mobile market in 2003 when they couldn’t afford to purchase a stand-alone store to bring healthy food into West Oakland, CA. Their renovated-postal-truck solution attracted attention and the concept has since spread to cities across the US that struggle with how to bring affordable, healthy food to low-income residents.
Chattanooga, TN had an immediate need to create a mobile market when, in early 2012, a grocery chain closed twelve stores in low-income areas of the city. Within six months, a coalition of organizations created Chattanooga Mobile Market to meet the needs of residents. Watch the Making the Chattanooga Mobile Market video.
Using Data to Paint a Picture
John Bilderback, program manager for Hamilton County’s Step1 initiative, made the case for the Chattanooga Mobile Market using Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, mapping data. Watch the video below to see how John gave this raw data new meaning.
Mobile Market Snapshots
Mobile markets are popping up in various forms all over the United States. New York City has the Green Cart program. Chicago’s Freshmoves recently added a second bus to their mobile market fleet. Madison, Wisconsin’s Freshmobile opened with a ribbon cutting in June 2012. The Portland, Oregon venture My Street Grocery added a Meal Kit element to their mobile market by packaging all of the ingredients for a healthy meal into one kit that includes cooking instructions.
In Missouri, the St. Louis based Farm to Family Foods mobile market is a food distribution enterprise that was started to support independent family-run farms. It created a win-win situation by bringing local produce to those that had little access to it before. In Kansas City, beans&greens uses a mobile market to expand their dollar-matching program for those on food assistance. SNAP users can get a match of up to $25 per week to use at the mobile market.
Funding Mobile Markets
Funding for these featured mobile markets has come from various sources. ChangeLab Solutions offers an online webinar detailing ways communites can fund their own ventures. The site also features a wealth of resources related to bringing healthy food into communities, including permit ordinances for produce carts and a tool-kit on Creating and Implementing Healthy General Plans. Other funding sources for mobile markets have included these ideas.
- Fork in the Road Market held a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $12,000 to buy their first mobile market truck.
- Baton Rouge, LA received a $1 million dollar Blue Cross Blue Shield grant that will allow them to roll out their first Mobile Market in 2013.
- Lima, Ohio will start a mobile market in 2013 with funding through a partnership with the Greater Lima United Way, the YMCA and the Apollo Career Center.
Everyone wants access to good food. By bringing affordable, healthy food to the people, mobile markets are one way communities are solving their food desert issues.