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Food Desert Solution: Mobile Supermarkets

Could a beer truck full of groceries revolutionize the way we think about food desert solutions? In New Mexico, one retiree is trying just that.

You’ve heard of food trucks and green carts. Now there’s a building momentum around mobile supermarkets that can tackle the country's food deserts.

Rick Schnieders grew up working in a little grocery store in Iowa and worked for years with Sysco, the United States' largest food distributor, until retiring a year and a half ago. He admits that he doesn't play golf or own a boat, so he's making the most out of retirement with a for-profit company called Mogro.

The mobile grocer started trucking in groceries in a 33-foot long trailer—10 full bays with 200 supermarket items—in Santo Domingo Pueblo, a Native American community in New Mexico. It’s basically a beer trailer with added refrigeration. Shopping there is sort of like walking through an outdoor grocery store, albeit one with only two aisles and no chips, soda, or candy bars.

"The trailer is the easy part," Schnieders told me. "The rest of it becomes pretty complicated. You’ve got to find a distributor. You’ve got to have a driver with a Commercial Driver’s License. Just showing up in a community is not enough. We’ve partnered with Johns Hopkins to do cooking classes and events, so you do have to put a lot of pieces together.”

What also makes Mogro different from other mobile food banks and grocers-on-wheels is that it stocks more than just fruits and vegetables. Schnieders doesn't think there's a high enough return on produce to make that venture economically sustainable. In the long-run, perhaps the business could be a model for filling in the gaps that make food deserts—access to healthy affordable food.

"But the real reason we're doing this is because we love this part of the country," he says. "We love the people. It’s an absolute crying need. My wife and I have a biding interest in food, agriculture, and nutrition. And we wanted to see if we could make this work."

Photo: Mogro, via @michaelpollan

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