Many communities are home to “food deserts,” or areas where grocery stores are inaccessible due to distance or cost. Food deserts can form because of deficits in public transit, high food prices, residents not owning vehicles or having limited mobility for various reasons, or other factors. Some areas, including Washington D.C., are lucky to have mobile food markets, which aim to alleviate this difficulty. Retired city and school buses have been turned into food and farmers’ markets in order to distribute fresh food to undeserved neighborhoods in many areas, including D.C., St. Louis and Toronto.
Arcadia’s Mobile Markets: Washington D.C.
Arcadia is a nonprofit based on the grounds of the Woodlawn Estate in Alexandria, which serves Washington, D.C. They seek to make the local food system more sustainable and equitable for everyone in D.C. Their website states that their mission is, “to improve access to healthy, affordable food regardless of where you live or how much you earn.”
Along with other types of food equity programming, this group works toward this goal by carrying out weekly market stops at low-income living facilities, recreation and community centers, parks, and with health care providers. Below, see one of their colorful, lovely, painted, upcycled buses.
At each stop, the Mobile Market provides farm-fresh products at low prices as well as nutritional recipes and healthy diet information. They accept all forms of payment, including WIC (Women, Infant and Children), SNAP/EBT (formerly called “Food Stamps”), and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers. They even run a “Bonus Bucks” program that doubles the purchasing power of these federal benefits. Additionally, Arcadia’s Mobile Markets participate in Washington, D.C.’s Produce Plus Program.
Arcadia also runs its own farm to produce most of the food they offer. They also partner with other local agricultural organizations, including Common Good City Farm, Ayrshire Farm, Helen’s Hens, Kilmer Orchards and many others. Arcadia works with community groups to run outreach initiatives and carries out educational visits at local schools. They even offer cooking demos and complementary SNAP/EBT pre-screenings.
Arcadia explains that “in the District of Columbia, nearly a quarter of all residents are considered low-income,” and their aim is to ensure that these communities achieve equitable and nourishing food access. A map of their scheduled visit is below.
MetroMarket: St. Louis, Missouri
The St. Louis MetroMarket is a nonprofit which, much like Arcadia, brings better food access to neighborhoods that already are, or are in danger of becoming, food deserts. Using a donated city bus, they visit high-need and low-income communities, “providing direct access to fresh and affordable produce, meat, and staple goods” and “advocating on the behalf of these communities on issues related to food justice, hunger and health.”
Global Citizen shares that Jeremy Goss, a St. Louis University medical student, and Washington University graduates Colin Dowling and Tej Azad, founded this organization.
They’ve teamed up with doctors from a local hospital, who are prescribing fresh produce for hungry children. These prescriptions count as coupons for the MetroMarket. Goss told KSDK his hope is that one day, the mobile food market will be obsolete. But, the current goal, “in addition to providing immediate access to people in desperate need, is to advocate on their behalf on issues related to food, hunger, health and injustice. Because this is an issue of injustice.”
Mobile Good Food Markets: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Up in Canada, a nonprofit called FoodShare is also fighting to restore fresh and nutritious food access to communities in need. FoodShare partners with and works to engage and empower local communities and schools in the process of transforming the food system to be more accessible and beneficial for all. They carry out community consultations to evaluate food access gaps and discover where a mobile market might be most appropriate. They work with community leaders and agencies to handle the logistics of where the bus can travel and park. Finally and ideally, through running their Mobile Good Food Markets, they “demonstrate that a weekly market can bring community members together while increasing access to healthy food.”
Here are some illustrations created by children whose families shop at the Mobile Good Food Markets:
Some of the criteria they look for in evaluating a community’s need are senior populations, single parent families, walking distance from grocery stores, low-income residents and “clusters of high-rise residential apartment towers.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states, “the right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has the physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.” These mobile food markets and others like them are making meaningful contributions toward bringing this vision to fruition.